Feeling blue: Altering patterns of belief within the police in South Africa

CATEGORY: Developmental, Succesful and Moral State
DATE: 23 March 2022

Ben Roberts and Steven Gordon             Wednesday 23 March 2022 


Internationally, the legitimacy of authorized authorities is recognised as essential for the state’s means to operate in a justifiable and efficient method. This is applicable, specifically, to the South African Police Service (SAPS). Not too long ago, Defence and Army Veterans Minister Thandi Modise expressed concern concerning the low degree of public belief in South African regulation enforcement. Talking on the nationwide Justice, Crime Prevention and Safety Cluster assembly, the minister drew consideration to a persisting legitimacy problem within the police-public relationship.


To supply additional context to the extent and nature of this problem, we look at consultant survey information on developments in police confidence because the late Nineties. Our analysis additionally outlines a few of the variations and drivers of this policing perspective. We hope this work will probably be used to design interventions to revive the general public’s religion within the police.


The analysis

Views on crime and policing within the nation have been a precedence theme within the South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS) collection since its inception in 2003. The Human Sciences Analysis Council (HSRC) has been utilizing face-to-face interviews to manage this collection, which has been designed to be a nationally consultant survey of the grownup inhabitants aged 16 years and older. Annually, between 2500 and 3200 interviews are performed countrywide. The information are then weighted utilizing Statistics South Africa’s most up-to-date mid-year inhabitants estimates.


SASAS builds on the HSRC’s earlier consultant public opinion surveying, courting again to the transition interval of the early Nineties. On sure subjects, this enables us to increase the interval of study again to earlier than the early 2000s.


Nationwide and provincial developments

The sample of public confidence within the police over the 1998 to 2021 interval is offered in Determine 1. Belief ranges have remained comparatively low all through this era. Not as soon as throughout this 23-year interval did greater than half the grownup public say that they trusted the police, indicating that the difficulty of police legitimacy is just not new.


Determine 1: Confidence within the police, 1998–2021 (% belief/strongly belief) HSRC EPOP 1998–2001; HSRC SASAS 2003–2021

Between 1998 and 2010, the typical degree of belief within the police was comparatively static. It ranged between 39% and 42% in most years. This was adopted by a pointy decline between 2011 and 2013 after the August 2012 Marikana bloodbath. However confidence had nearly returned to the 2011 degree by 2015.


The 2016 to 2020 interval was characterised by a modest fluctuation between 31% and 35%. The onerous COVID-19 lockdown expertise, which included situations of police brutality in implementing lockdown rules, seems to not have had an combination impact primarily based on the 2020 survey outcomes. In 2021, public belief within the police dipped to a low of 27%. This seems to be linked to the July 2021 social unrest. Many have criticised the poor efficiency of the police throughout the unrest.


Substantial provincial variations in belief within the SAPS might be noticed in Desk 1. Trying on the 2010–2021 interval, we discover that the grownup public within the Western Cape, North West and Gauteng have persistently reported figures beneath the nationwide common. The dramatic decline in belief noticed between 2020 and 2021 was inconsistently mirrored throughout provinces. The biggest decline in police confidence was within the Western Cape. It fell greater than 20 share factors, enormously exceeding the nationwide decline of seven share factors. Extra average (however nonetheless sizeable) declines have been recognized in Limpopo, Northern Cape, and Gauteng.


Desk 1: Provincial developments in police confidence, 2011–2021 (% belief/strongly belief) HSRC SASAS 2011–2021





North West54364137304131202535365


Free State45396242434141352830408

Northern Cape60383945464033313725439

Jap Cape69434334394044363638452

Western Cape37503442323233314322363


Elements related to police confidence

Primarily based on SASAS survey proof, varied components have been proven to exert an affect on public belief in, and legitimacy of, the police in South Africa. These are briefly summarised beneath.


Experiences of crime clearly matter. Those that had been a latest sufferer of crime displayed considerably decrease ranges of belief within the police. Concern of crime has the same impact. Increased ranges of worry are related to decrease belief within the police. This is applicable to traditional measures resembling worry of strolling alone in a single’s space after darkish, in addition to crime-specific fears (i.e., worrying about house theft or violent assault). These associations have been discovered throughout a number of rounds of surveying.


Experiences of policing are additionally related to confidence within the police. Unfavourable police experiences by the general public have a bearing on police judgements. These reporting unsatisfactory private contact with law enforcement officials expressed decrease belief ranges than these reporting passable contact.


Effectively-publicised situations of police abuse or failure additionally appear to scale back public confidence. A distinguished instance is the perceived ineffectiveness of the SAPS response to the 2021 social unrest. New SASAS information on attitudes in the direction of the 2021 social unrest reveal that harsher assessments of the policing response to the unrest have been certainly related to decrease ranges of belief in SAPS.


Perceptions of police corruption additionally had a robust, unfavorable impact on police confidence. From a procedural justice perspective, previous in-depth SASAS analysis has proven that the South African public strongly emphasises each police equity and effectiveness as necessary constituent components of their general assessments of police confidence. The extra the police are seen to be treating South Africans unfairly, the extra they’re more likely to view the police as untrustworthy.


Equally, perceptions that the police deal with folks disrespectfully, are usually not neutral of their decision-making, or lack transparency within the actions (procedural unfairness) additionally undermine public confidence. Lastly, if the police are seen as ineffective (i.e., unsuccessful in stopping, lowering and responding to crime), this can diminish confidence.


One other issue that influences how folks view the police is their broader analysis of democratic efficiency and the trustworthiness of presidency. These are positively linked with police belief. Public confidence in democratic establishments has proven a robust downward pattern over the previous fifteen years, as a part of a normal sample of diminishing political assist. Police confidence is just not proof against the pull-down impact of those wider developments.


Sprucing the tarnished badge

From the above, it’s evident that in a high-crime and socially divided society, confidence within the police is made up of a mixture of views on the equity and effectiveness of the police, mixed with experiences (and worry) of crime, contact with police, and much more normal views on the functioning of democracy and authorities.


Low and diminishing confidence within the police, if left unchecked, will even proceed to negatively form mass views of the police. What do the survey outcomes counsel would possibly have to be accomplished to shore up confidence within the police within the nation? The work of the Institute of Safety Research is important right here. Ideas embody shelling out with an excessively hierarchical tradition, selling competent and moral SAPS management, in addition to strengthening different components of the general system of police governance.


One other key intervention is the implementation of a non-militaristic policing ethos. This must be framed round a service tradition and using minimal drive. It additionally requires SAPS to place extra measures in place to watch and management using drive, and promote a tradition of police accountability.


These concepts warrant severe consideration. They matter essentially for stopping additional situations of police misuse of drive, corruption amongst senior officers, and police ineffectiveness in dealing with crime. That is essential for stemming and reversing the eroding confidence within the badge. 



Dr Benjamin Roberts, Appearing Strategic Lead and Analysis Director within the Developmental, Succesful and Moral State (DCES) analysis division, Human Sciences Analysis Council (HSRC). Electronic mail: broberts@hasrc.ac.za, Cell: 0845230374.


Dr Steven Gordon, Senior Analysis Specialist within the Developmental, Succesful and Moral State (DCES) analysis division, Human Sciences Analysis Council (HSRC). Electronic mail: sgordon@hasrc.ac.za, Cell: 0842499799.