Real cop or fake cop?
The lines have been blurred between real police and those posing as officers, severely undermining the public trust as people are no longer certain whether those in uniform are there to help them or rob them.
The Eastern Cape has witnessed several recent cases where criminals in police uniform have robbed or hijacked residents or businesses.
Compounding the situation is that in some cases real police officers are involved in crimes themselves.
This week, the DispatchLIVE established that a well-organised gang of armed robbers dressed in full police uniform and driving cloned police vans is operating in East London.
A cloned van is a normal bakkie fitted with blue lights and fake stickers resembling those of police.
The gang is robbing businesses and conducting fake raids at taverns to solicit bribes.
The provincial police’s organised crime unit is searching for members of the syndicate, which has struck four times in less than two months.
In the latest incident two “policemen” tried to solicit a bribe from an East London tavern owner over a “fraudulent” liquor licence.
A police source, who spoke to the Dispatch on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media, said the impostors fled empty-handed after the quick-thinking businessman, whose licence was valid, called a Hawks investigator.
Hawks provincial spokesperson captain Anelisa Ngcakani said a report of the incident has not reached the commanders.
The incident happened over the weekend in Southernwood, according to the source.
The gang tried the same trick at a business in Quigney but also failed, he said.
The syndicate was also responsible for hijacking a liquor truck on January 9.
Police say the “East London police van” that was used by three “policemen” in the hijacking of the truck on the N6 was a clone.
Whisky and other liquor worth R189,000 was stolen.
The truck driver and his colleague told the police they were stopped by three “policemen” who handed them over to six armed thugs.
On November 28, a Rhino Cash and Carry was robbed by five suspects who sped off in a van marked “Motherwell Police Cluster”. This vehicle was also a clone.
The robbers fled with money believed to be between R300 and R600,000 in cash.
Eastern Cape provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana said: “The cases are still under investigation and, as indicated earlier, the allegations that SAPS members were involved forms part of the ongoing investigation.”
But there are also cases where registered officers are accused of crimes.
A Mdantsane police constable is accused of the robbery of Highway’s Rhino Cash and Carry in Mdantsane on December 27.
The court case is under way and the officer remains in custody.
Institute for Security Studies researcher Dr Johan Burger warned that the “fake cop” situation should not be taken lightly as it undermined public trust in the police while also posing dangers to actual SAPS members.
According to Burger it is relatively easy for anyone to access police uniforms.
“You should start to look at the way the police lose firearms.
“Hundreds of police firearms are lost every year, either as a result of negligence or police officers deliberately selling them or renting them out to criminals.
“Police are aware of it and they have improved some of their security systems, but it is not enough,” Burger said.
Burger said the same applied to police uniforms.
“In the past there used to be strict controls over police uniforms, with every member having to be in possession of a prescribed number of uniform pieces and checked at least once a year.
“Those control mechanisms no longer exist in the police.”
He said this led to members having a surplus uniform which they could sell or give away.
He said criminals bribed officers for their uniforms.
“The cloning of cars is also rife in Gauteng,” he said.
But national police spokesperson Brig Vish Naidoo said it was “impossible” for people who were not members of the police to buy uniforms.
He said renting from real police officers was the most logical explanation for robbers getting their hands on uniforms.
Naidoo said the SAPS had its own clothing stores across SA, including Bhisho’s Komga Road.
He said the SAPS only outsourced the manufacturing of the uniforms, “but the actual distribution of the uniform is done by us at our SAPS-run stores, including the badges, appellate and name tags — every single piece of the uniform”.
Popcru Eastern Cape chair Col Loyiso Mdingi confirmed members of the union had been fired for renting out uniform to criminals.
“Such officers do not belong in the service.
“We have seen police officers involved in the commission of crime.
“Those are criminals who will get us all killed.
“The SAPS need to regulate the manufacturing of police uniforms.
“We have seen security guards wearing uniforms that resemble those of cops.”