In the wake of another damming report the South African Police Service (SAPS) is spending R25 million on external communications companies in a bid to polish the image of the force and that of national commissioner Riah Phiyega.

On 28 February 2015 the South African Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR) released a report, titled Broken Blue Line 2, a follow-up on the initial research project released in 2011.

The report describes a corrupt, brutal police force that citizens have reason to fear. It cites dozens of officers charged for murder, armed robberies, bribe taking and sexual assaults. In relation the latter there were even several reported cases of police officers detaining women in order to rape them.

The report stated that “These are not ‘isolated incidents’ but a ‘pattern of behavior’ “adding “violent crime levels in South Africa won’t turn around while the ‘wolf guards the sheep.’” The “violent crime” refers to the fact that South Africa’s murder rate is about four and a half times higher than the global average with an average of 47 murders per day and a reported a rape every 4 minutes.

The report concluded “Confidence in the police is so low that you no longer can trust the person you report a crime to. They might be a criminal as well. “Women who drive alone in the evening have a reason to fear if they see blue lights in the rear view mirror…”

In reaction to the report South Africa’s national police commissioner, Riah Phiyega stated “We do not support it and feel that it was funded and released with malicious intent”.

Phiyega’s denial of the validity of the report is however a denial of the truth. In 2013 the South African Police Service revealed that a “protracted” and “thorough” audit of the Department had found that 1,448 serving police officers were convicted criminals. The criminal cops included a major general, 10 brigadiers, 21 colonels, 43 lieutenant colonels, 10 majors, 163 captains and 706 warrant officers. The crimes included murder, attempted murder, culpable homicide, rape, attempted rape, assault, aiding an escapee, theft, housebreaking, drug trafficking, kidnapping, robbery, malicious damage to property and domestic violence.

Pressured by MPs for a time frame, a “temporary date” of June 2014 was offered for the police’s fitness boards to finish evaluating all the cases. To date most of the 1,448 police remain on active duty.

Dr. Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has noted that the problem of criminality in the SAPS started getting out of hand after Jackie Selebi took over in 2000. Selebi who was president of Interpol from 2004 to 2008, was convicted of corruption and of accepting bribes from a drug smuggler in exchange for tip-offs into police investigations in 2010. Selebi, the former senior ANC member who died on 28 January 2015 was on medical parole after serving just eight months of his 15 year sentence. Under Selebi numbers in police uniform increased from 100,000 to 155,000.

It seems that the latest costly initiative to hire consultants to help with a public relations exercise is also under question as, apart from the fact the force needs far more than new brochures and good write ups to clean up their image – there is already a huge in-house communications department. The SAPS communications unit includes more than 200 staff members,10 senior managers at the level of director, each earning more than R800 000 a year, and two chief directors. No word on their abilities or if they too have criminal records.