What Cops Need
The crime stats are out! Murder is down! Everything else is up! And it’s time for an all new round of shoot-to-kill populist propaganda! It’s a good thing I’ve taken the time to watch a LOT of cop shows and movies to figure out what the South Africa Police Force (neé Service) really needs:
1. Good coffee (doughnuts optional).
Most cops get their caffeine fix for night shifts at 24-hour garages where the beverages served in paper cups more closely resemble liquid tar than coffee. Serve up good, free coffee and cops will be more alert and more efficient! (Reducing the number of double shifts worked and paying proper overtime also good.)
2. Fast cars.
Like Magnum, a good detective (private or otherwise) needs a cool ride. Or at least a working one. The SAPS vans used by officers on patrol often don’t get downtime for repairs because there just aren’t vehicles to spare. Unless the repairs are urgent (the little matter of failed brakes, say), a car is kept in circulation until it falls apart. Working vehicles means faster response times – and more entertaining car chases.
3. Big Guns! (Or at least fully financed bullets)
Judge Dredd would never have been able to menacingly slur “I am the law” without his lawgiver. And cops have actually always been allowed to shoot to kill, in the right circumstances. Of course, the best cops never have to draw their guns, but if they do, it helps a lot if they’re able to use ‘em. The catch is that cops have to pay for their own bullets on the firing range, which makes practicing an expensive habit, especially on a cop’s salary. Which brings us to…
4. Rewarding work.
For a cop, just doing your job should be reward enough, busting bad guys, fighting crime, protect-and-serving, not to mention breaking out the killer one-liners. (Can I hear a “Yippee-kay-ay, motherfuckers?”) But the pesky inconvenience of paying the rent and school fees and buying groceries and petrol and dog food makes doing it for the love impractical. Cops need better pay.
5. Street cred.
Cops need to build their credibility with local communities, which is particularly difficult in those areas where the legacy of apartheid has created an inherent distrust of the police. It’s not hard to see why considering that only 15 years ago, they were the people who broke down your door to drag away your teenage kids for daring to go to a protest march. It’s all about relationship building, Dr Phil-style, which brings us to another thing the police force needs desperately…
6. Hot girls.
Hot as in smart, sussed and working in the SAPS. (Refer Charlie Angels or Silence of the Lambs or Dominion Tank Police. Wait. Maybe not Tank Police.) In his book Thin Blue, Jonny Steinberg posits that women make better police because they’re usually not perceived as being as intimidating or downright threatening as their male counterparts. Less historical baggage and less testosterone can’t be a bad thing. (Just don’t give them tanks)
7. Bullet proofing.
Not just in terms of body armour when the guys you’re shooting to kill aim to shoot to kill right backatcha, but in having the moral high-ground. Like Morgan Freeman in Se7en (and just about everything else he’s done, hey, the man plays Mandela) our police force needs to be beyond reproach, to act ethically, to be role-models in their work. Which means their leaders need to be role-models too.
Police corruption generally doesn’t come from the cops on the beat, who work hard and risk their lives daily for a miserable pittance, but, despicably, from their higher-ups. Corruption among senior SAPS members taking bribes or consorting with mafiosos shows gross contempt for real police and undermines the real work they do. It needs to be tackled head-on and hard, like a rugby oke tackling other rugby okes.
JZ and Bheki Cele can definitely talk the talk when it comes to getting tough on crime and reforming the police service. But can they walk the beat?
(Originally published in The Big Issue #152. Thanks to Andrew Brown for personal insights. Now go buy: Street Blues:The Experiences of a Reluctant Policeman)