Popcru victorious on criminal cops

Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko has given up trying to defend a flawed attempt by his department to root out hundreds of convicted criminals in the police force.

He yesterday finally withdrew his appeal against a 2014 Labour Court finding that set aside his department’s method of dismissing more than 1000 police criminals.

The department set up “fitness boards” to root out the criminals after an audit of the police found in 2013 that about 1500 SAPS members had been convicted of offences ranging from rape and murder to corruption and fraud.

The Labour Court found some of the “fitness boards” set up by his predecessor Nathi Mthethwa and then police commissioner Riah Phiyega were unlawfully convened and of no force and effect.

But, instead of going back to the drawing board and doing things lawfully, the police ministry took the matter on appeal.

Yesterday, on the day the matter was to be heard in the Labour Appeal Court, Nhleko threw in the towel, withdrew the appeal and agreed to pay all legal costs incurred by their opposition, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru).

Popcru’s attorney Brin Brody yesterday said: “This puts to bed the minister and commissioner’s attempt to discipline or dismiss police officials on the basis of fitness boards of inquiry.”

Labour Court judge Rob Lagrange found two years ago that the boards could not consider cases where officers had been convicted of statutory or common law offences while in service but were not sentenced to spend time in jail.

He said that in such cases normal disciplinary inquiries with existing disciplinary procedures should be followed. But the fitness boards were an appropriate mechanism to assess some categories of criminally convicted police.

These included police members who had been found guilty of an offence and sentenced before being employed in the police service as they could not face disciplinary action because their criminal action had happened prior to their employment.

“The inquiry in that case can only be into that member’s capacity or fitness to continue to serve in the SAPS, which does seem to fall within the ambit of the Boards of Fitness convened by the Commissioner,” said Lagrange.

He said fitness inquiries were also appropriate in the cases of SAPS members found guilty of an offence and sentenced while in service if their sentence included a term of imprisonment without the option of a fine.

In such cases, he said, the member ought in any event to have automatically been discharged.

It was not clear if Nhleko would pursue other avenues as his spokesman Musi Zondi had not responded to questions at the time of writing yesterday.

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