1 potato, 2 potato, 3 potato rot

In the past two weeks, this newsroom has reported on the arrest of three Douglasdale police officers, a video of a Sandton police officer using state resources to deal with her DStv account and the outcome of the case of a Metro police officer who accepted a R100 bribe.

Elsewhere in the country, the Provincial Commissioner of the South African Police Service in Mpumalanga was, according to a police statement, said to be ‘perturbed’ by a video ‘depicting a policeman sleeping on duty’.

The close proximity of these incidents to one another really plunges the police service into the spotlight and begs the question: What is happening within our police ranks? It’s a rather scary question to not know the answer to when one considers we look to the police to serve and protect us.

And so it is rather commendable that the Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, jumped in quickly last Wednesday to announce in a statement that disciplinary processes had been initiated for the Sandton police officer and it ‘must serve as a warning to other rotten potatoes’.

Mbalula’s ‘rotten potatoes’ phrase does not only make for a marvellous headline, his stern warning is on point at this uncertain time. As Jeffrey Ian Ross writes in Chapter 8, Poor Police – Community Relations, in his book, Policing Issues: Challenges & Controversies, when it appears that the interests of communities are not represented by those who enforce the law, there is ‘discontent and dissension’.

It is with the aim of strengthening the ‘partnership between police and our people’, as the media statement from the office of the police minister read, that Mbalula last Wednesday launched the social media campaign, #MyPoliceStation, that calls on citizens to report complaints of service delivery at specific police stations.

Mbalula’s campaign came on the day that the video of the Sandton police officer using ‘state resources to deal with her personal issues while ignoring our people who came for service’, as the statement read, was circulating on social media.

For this campaign, Mbalula has tapped into the very thing that community members are already using to create awareness of their experiences – social media. What Mbalula is signalling to the public by opening up this opportunity is that he aims to create transparency and build trust between the police, including himself, and citizens. In his own words, “This campaign is meant to put people first as Batho Pele government principle demands from all civil servants.”

Mbalula is further showing that he agrees with citizens that there can be no room for corruption within the police ranks. As Mbalula says, “We will not tolerate rogue elements within our ranks, we must name and shame them.”

But it comes with a stern warning from the police minister for the public not to report old or hoax cases, and he emphasised that the campaign did not replace police stations and cases still needed to be reported at the police station.

By Mbalula opening up this communication channel for citizens to highlight incidents that they believe show service delivery failures within the police ranks, and promoting the investigation by police generals of these cases, the police minister is actively trying to build open and positive relations between the police and public.

According to Ross, when relations between the police and public are good, citizens are more inclined to report crimes and intelligence to the police and, in turn, the police are said to become more proactive.

In the face of the incidents in our police ranks in Joburg’s northern suburbs in the past two weeks, any campaign that seeks to build positive relations between the police and community is sorely needed.

But the #MyPoliceStation campaign’s ultimate success will depend on how the public answers this call to action and the extent to which Mbalula and the police generals get their hands dirty and ensure that the issues raised are dealt with appropriately, or else the police minister may be confronted by more complaints and disgruntlement from social media users than he bargained for.


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Daniella Potter
News Editor

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