n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Exploring the public image of the police in a post-apartheid South Africa

Volume 26, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



Prior to 1994, South Africa was ruled by an authoritarian government. Dismantling 'apartheid' in which South Africa was caught-up for almost 46 years, offered the country the opportunity for the first time in its history to develop a democratic-oriented police system. Unlike the authoritarian era with its 'repressive, centralised police force', the South African Police Service (SAPS) promised to be a non-paramilitary police service. Although policing in both post-communist societies (Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Georgia and Belarus) and post-apartheid era in South Africa managed to successfully 'escape' from chaotic transitional environments, they still suffer similar concerns in terms of policing. For example in terms of: police legitimacy and public trust, police use of illegal force and police accountability. Over the last few years the public image of the police suffered severe criticism because of the involvement of the police in serious crimes such as murder, rape, armed robbery, serious assault, corruption and bribery. Alleged inefficiency and ineffectiveness in dealing with the crime problem and lack of visible deterrence of crime, are some of the regular accusations. The most important image producing sources are: television, personal observation of and/or experiences with the police when executing their duties, daily newspapers and other news media. Although legitimacy of the police has been positively rated by the research group, which was used for this research study, their perceptions relating to the justification of the police appears to be misplaced in favour of the juridical basis instead of the service delivery-to-society basis. Apparently this is as a result of an over-emphasis of the reactive policing function with a retributive inclination. Proactive and reactive policing functions are being rated more important than any of the remote functions. A deep-seated obligation on the part of the research group to engage in the prevention of crime and their willingness to assist the police in rooting out crime, are positive image outcomes. An analysis of police characteristics as possible stimulators for regular crime reporting and steps to improve the police image, are issues of immediate concern which will be discussed.

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