CHAPTER 5: Capacity to perform public order policing

Capacity to Perform Public Order Policing

A Review of Public Order Policing Capacity 


Monograph No 138, October 2007


Bilkis Omar

The capacity of any unit in this context depends on an adequate level of skills and the availability of appropriate equipment. In addition, the legislative framework governing Crime Combating Units (CCUs) – the Regulation of Gatherings Act (205 of 1993) – provides a cooperative environment between all the parties, allows the law enforcement agencies to plan adequately for events, and makes all the parties responsible for their organisation’s members. However, the Act also presents a number of practical and logistical challenges to both the police and those who wish to organise events. By focusing on these challenges, this chapter considers whether the police have the capacity to adequately perform public order policing.

Challenges presented by the Regulation of Gatherings Act

Unrealistically short notice period

The period during which organisers of gatherings or demonstrations must both apply for permission to hold an event and receive a response, is unrealistically short. This is especially the case for large gatherings, which may include as many as 5 000 participants, and which need extensive planning prior to the event.

As mentioned earlier in this monograph, the applicant may not apply for permission sooner than seven days before the event is due to take place, or later than 48 hours before the event. Effectively this means there is only a five-day window during which an application must be submitted and a response received; it also means that the outcome of the application can only be known shortly before the event is due to take place, creating considerable uncertainty for the event planners. Consideration should therefore be given to a 14-day notice period.

Appropriate representatives for golden triangle meetings

The person who is sent by the organisers to the meeting needs to have an overview of the planned event and a mandate to make decisions on behalf the organisation or organisations planning the event. Ideally this person should have been involved in drafting the application. Sending an insufficiently informed person who does not have decision making powers can mean that the golden triangle meeting may have to be rescheduled and the permission may be delayed.

Sufficient marshals for the gathering

Marshals are expected ‘to control the participants in the gathering, and to take the necessary steps to ensure that the gathering at all times proceeds peacefully’ (Regulation of Gatherings Act 1993:12). Marshals are vital to ensure a peaceful event. They reduce the need for large numbers of police officers, and because they are there to assist and direct the crowd, they reduce the potential for antagonism between the police and participants. This frees the police to concentrate on criminal activities within the vicinity of the event and gather crime intelligence.

The Regulation of Gatherings Act does not stipulate the ratio of marshals to participants. Current practice (at least in Johannesburg) is that marshals should make up 10 per cent of the total number of participants. There is a need to specify the ratio in the legislation.

Regulations needed in relation to petitions

If the purpose of a gathering is to hand a petition to a government official, convenors of gatherings and demonstrations are required to notify the relevant person of their wish to hand over a petition on a particular day. This notification should take place before the golden triangle meeting. However, the Act does not stipulate that the convenors of the event have to receive an acknowledgement of receipt of the petition, or a prior agreement that the petition will be received on the designated day.

Since nobody can be legally compelled to accept a petition, the marchers may become angry and antagonistic when no designated person is present to receive the petition. The legislation must seek to address this problem of receiving the petition to avoid antagonism of the marchers (Van der Merwe 2006a).

Clarifying who is liable for damages

If damages occur, the convenors of all the organisations involved can be held accountable. Organisations making applications to participate in marches often do not include particulars of other organisations intending to participate with the result that liability for damages becomes contentious. 

According to Chapter 4, subsections 11-16 of the Regulation of Gatherings Act 205 of 1993, if any riot damage occurs as a result of a gathering, every organisation under the auspices of the gathering, or its convenor, shall be jointly and severally liable for that riot damage. Convenors of gatherings have to sign indemnity forms protecting the authorities, and they need to realise the extent of their responsibility because they are ultimately liable for all participants.

Accurate minutes of meetings needed

The record keeping systems of the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) and social movements regarding golden triangle meetings are deficient. A report compiled by the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) found that ‘the records received from the JMPD were…not comprehensive, largely because of the deficiencies in the JMPD’s own record-keeping systems’. Similarly, the ‘actual records kept by these [social] movements were seriously lacking’ (Anon nd:5). There is a need for all parties to be required by law to keep detailed records of golden triangle meetings that take place before a gathering so that disputes that arise can be settled later.

Despite these challenges, the Regulation of Gatherings Act, in stipulating that meetings take place between the police, local authorities and organisers of public gatherings, ensures that such gatherings are better planned and co-ordinated.

Human resources

When this research commenced in early 2006, the restructuring that would change the ACCUs into the CCUs which was due to happen later in the year had not yet been implemented, so the existing Area Crime Combating Units were still operating as before under the authority of the SAPS area commissioners.

The ACCUs in Gauteng had 1 383 operational members distributed through seven units in the province. Each unit was based in one of the seven Gauteng policing areas, and performed both crowd management and crime combating functions. While crime combating duties consumed much of the units’ time, crowd management was a key function, especially as there was an increase in mass gatherings. The Johannesburg Central (Diepkloof) ACCU consisted of approximately 179 operational members and 21 stations, and the East Rand (Springs) unit consisted of approximately 230 operational members and 24 stations. Despite the increase in workload, the unit members were still coping with their daily tasks.

Members in these two ACCUs (Johannesburg and East Rand) said that although staff numbers were low they were able to cope with the workload, which included dealing effectively with protest gatherings and demonstrations. In 2006, with the sporadic protests in Khutsong10, which are still ongoing, and the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) wage strike, it became clear that the units were short of staff, but the problem was overcome by drawing in additional staff from other units.

ACCU members also stated during interviews that they were able to cope effectively with the management of sporting and other events. However, despite this positive assessment they believed that increasing the number of staff in the units would make their job easier as they were short-staffed and needed the assistance of members from other units.

In October 2006, the restructuring of the SAPS had just been implemented at the Johannesburg Central unit. At this stage, the SAPS area offices had already been closed down, over half the ACCU members had been redeployed to police station, and the seven original ACCU units had been collapsed into three units which, as described earlier, had been renamed as Crime Combating Units. There were 614 specialised crowd management members remaining in the three Crime Combating Units in Gauteng. The Johannesburg unit, based in Diepkloof, and incorporating the former West Rand and Soweto ACCUs, had a total of 225 operational members, while the East Rand unit, based in Springs, incorporated the former Vaal Rand and North Rand ACCUs and consisted of 197 operational members.

As mentioned in the previous chapter, for some crowd control situations, members of the CCUs are now working in ‘sections’ as opposed to the larger platoons. Thus if a unit is deployed to control a gathering of 2 000 people, the ratio of CCU members to participants is 10 to 2 000, as opposed to the 38 to 2 000 ratio which was the case under the ACCUs when an entire platoon would be deployed for a crowd of the same size.

The CCU members interviewed expressed the concern that a large spontaneous crowd control incident could lead to a fatality; some said that a tragic event would make the national department realise that the restructuring of the CCUs was a mistake. As author Piet Pieters (2007:2) put it: ‘When discussing police capacity there is one vital question to keep in mind: are we capable of managing a long-term crisis situation of national scope, without hampering basic police service?’


On joining a crowd management unit, a member is obliged to attend a three-week formal training course. The course consists of Platoon Members Training (PMT – previously known as ‘POP Entry Level’) and Platoon Commander Training (PCT), which is a course for commanders, i.e. captain and higher. The more advanced operational courses include First Line Operational Manager (FLOM) courses 1,2 and 3, and Operational Commanders Training (OCT). These courses are held at the SAPS training centres at Verdrag, Jakkaldans, Maleeuskop, Grobelaarsdaal, Thabazimbi, Grootvlei, and Rooiberg.

The courses last two to three weeks, and consist of both theoretical and practical work. They cover a rigorous programme that includes physical training, classroom work, and practical simulations of the theoretical work. Shooting practice also forms part of the crowd management training.

As crime combating is also part of the CCU members’ functions, they periodically attend courses that are provided on an ongoing basis. These range from street survival to house penetration and weapons handling.

Thus far all members of the Johannesburg and East Rand CCUs have been trained in the relevant crowd management skills. Many have also attended updating courses.

In-service training

Achieving change is difficult, but maintaining change and empowering employees to use new techniques or skills is impossible without a mechanism for continual reinforcement. Formal in-service training provides a way to maintain momentum and to build new skills (Sloan et al nd).

According to a SAPS document (SAPS 2004:8), ‘Training policy, standards, and the presentation of national coordinated training [is] the responsibility of the Operational Response Service: training and development section at national level. Decentralised in-service training [is] the responsibility of the Operational Response Services (ORS) training coordinator at provincial level’.

The document11 stipulates that every unit must have dedicated trainers responsible for coordination of all in-service training at unit level. Trainers must allocate to each operational member a file listing all training needs and training received, and this must be updated and maintained by the trainer. In addition the document states that ‘the level of in-service training must be maintained by ensuring that there are an adequate number of well trained instructors to ensure the same standard of training is received by all ACCU members’ (SAPS 2004:8).

Prior to the 2006 restructuring, the Johannesburg and East Rand ACCUs had four and nine trainers respectively. After the restructuring, some of the training capacity was lost to stations and other training components for crime combating and the training of reservists for support roles at crime scenes.

The ‘establishment document’ does not specify how many in-service training sessions members should attend each month. This is a noteworthy omission as the number of courses attended provides an opportunity to measure and assess staff.

A SAPS circular (SAPS 1997:2) exists that stipulates that in-service training be done ‘at least one day per month, for each member of a platoon’. Whether outdated or not, this appears to be the only document prescribing the amount of in-service training, and the frequency seems reasonable enough. Trainers interviewed concurred with this requirement and advised the following:

Judging from the responses to interview questions, in-service training in the Johannesburg CCU was not a main priority, either before the restructuring or after. For the East Rand unit, in-service training had been undertaken as often as possible before the restructuring, but after the restructuring it slackened slightly. The reason for the decline was not because in-service training was no longer seen as important or necessary for members, trainers, and managers, but because the training had diminished in importance relative to all the other tasks that members had to attend to. In other words, in-service training has become less of a priority because the CCUs are overstretched.

The mandate of the CCUs is both crowd management and crime combating, but the shortage of manpower and resources, the increase in the number of marches, the utilisation of members in the various task teams and for special duties, the deployment of members to stations as part of SAPS crime prevention operations (like Operation Trio), and the great distances that some members now have to travel to get to work, have all taken their toll on in-service training.

Whether carried out or not, reporting on in-service training is done via the SAPS reporting chain. Trainers submit reports on members’ performance to the unit commander. This is then directed to the provincial head of the Operational Response Services (ORS), and then submitted to the National Division of Operational Response Services. If issues need addressing, the divisional commissioner of Operational Response Services must appoint officers to address the concerns.

Evaluations of in-service training at units are carried out by the Specialised Skills Development component of the ORS division. Their officers visit the units, perform an audit of members’ training files, submit a report to the component head, and then submit a report to the divisional commissioner.

In 2006 an evaluation of in-service training was conducted at all the units in Gauteng (SAPS 2006). It was found that in-service training was being conducted in the East Rand unit, but that the Johannesburg unit, despite having planned a programme, was not doing training because they had so many crowd management events to attend to. Both units were found to have good record-keeping systems. The report (SAPS 2006) for the province recommended that:

The outcome of these recommendations is unknown. Currently the ORS division has no mandate to carry out any of its functions because it is awaiting finalisation of its own organisational structure in terms of the 2006 restructuring of the SAPS. It is hoped that the recommendations are taken up once the formalities are sorted out.

Additional training

Most CCU members indicated that they would like more training in crowd management and crime combating. With regard to the latter they wanted courses in tracking, house penetration, reaction, drug identification, and shooting. Many members said that they needed more regular shooting training and noted that the level of skills was poor – even some of the older members could not use 9mm pistols, shotguns or R5 rifles.

Fitness and age of members

Another concern raised during the research was the poor fitness level of members. There is currently no mandatory physical training even and it is essential that a specialist unit maintains its standards by ensuring that members do regular physical training. Some individuals seem to be unwilling to train, although it was evident that other members were doing physical training on their own initiative and at their own expense.

During interviews many CCU members mentioned that they would like to do physical training at the units. A Johannesburg member stated, ‘In 1996/7 I used to train in the mornings. This stopped because of the workload and the change of instructor. There is no concentration on physical fitness at the unit; it increases one’s lifespan and de-stresses a person’. A directive has now been sent from the provincial office for units to begin fitness training.

Another concern is the age of members. At the time of restructuring a rumour was circulating that those above the age of 35 years were to be re-deployed to stations. Managers who were questioned were unsure about the source of this rumour. However, interviews revealed that many members (even the younger ones) felt that age was not a factor and that experience and fitness were more important. Members did, however, feel that the units should employ younger recruits who could be mentored by the older members. Trainers said that they preferred working with younger members because ‘they offer a better service and are less prone to injuries’.

Currently, the Johannesburg metro police, in their drive to recruit officers for 2010, have indicated that applicants must ‘bring along running shoes, track suits…’ to be tested for physical fitness (Minnaar 2007: 1).

Equipment for public order policing

Members of the CCUs have to adhere to the Regulation of Gatherings Act in the management of gatherings and demonstrations. One implication of this is that they have to ensure that ‘minimum’ force is used. This is accomplished by the use of specialised equipment and weapons that minimise the risk of injury or death. The objective is to ensure that violence is prevented or kept at a minimum.

According to SAPS Standing Order 262 (p9), the following are prohibited or restricted during crowd management operations:

South African Police Service members use the following equipment for public order policing:

Full body armour in South Africa includes helmets, shields, and bulletproof vests. Police in other countries ‘use body armour…to protect vulnerable parts not usually protected by standard military body armour; they include knee, shin, forearm, groin, thigh, and shoulder guards’ (Riot Control Equipment:4).

Helmets with visors are used to protect members’ eyes from liquids and other objects. Helmets with grids offer less protection, and they can be gripped and used to forcibly shake the wearer. Both the visor and grid helmets are currently used by CCU members, although the general preference amongst members and trainers is for the helmets with visors. The drawback of the helmets with visors is that they are ineffective if not maintained. A new design of helmet has been procured by the SAPS, which according to a trainer, includes a knob that is harmful to the wearer’s head.

Shields offer frontal body protection, however the shin area and below is protected only if the member is in a crouching position. Shields are also used as psychological tools to intimidate demonstrators, by repeatedly beating on them with tonfas. Members and trainers have said that the shields they use are rough at the edges and tend to cause lacerations to the hands.

Members have also criticised the poor quality of boots issued and have stated a preference for the Magnum or Black Hawk Rebel boots. Trainers interviewed agreed with this point.

The armoured vehicles (Nyalas) at both units are in a poor mechanical condition. The tyres are unsuitable and dangerous according to a trainer, and all the Nyalas in the units require full mechanical servicing. Managers of the units as well as more senior managers at national level have also agreed with this assessment.

Interviews at the Johannesburg unit in 2006 ascertained that the vehicles at the unit were old, with high mileages, and that they were constantly breaking down. At the East Rand unit in 2007, it was found that the old vehicles at all units had been replaced with new 4x4 vehicles and bakkies.12 However, despite the replacement of the old vehicles, these units, according to management, are still facing a shortage of vehicles.

Besides the above shortcomings, both the East Rand and Johannesburg units currently have sufficient public order equipment, i.e. helmets, shields, and tonfas. Subsequent to our interviews, we learned that new Nyalas and other equipment such as water cannons have been requisitioned for all CCUs in preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup (Schutte 2007).

Other equipment

Among the equipment that has proven to be effective internationally while inflicting minimal injury are dyes added into water cannons, net-guns, and foam. However, some equipment deemed to be non-lethal can be fatal. In Boston USA, police killed a woman with a pepper ball gun at a baseball game that turned riotous. Apparently police did have ‘alternative crowd control measures that they could have used’ (Olsen 2004). The lesson here is that caution must be used in procuring new equipment and the requisite training must be undertaken.

The best equipment can be ineffective if not maintained. While there are no actual figures available for equipment that is damaged and requires replacing, this was highlighted during the research as an issue needing attention by CCU managers and trainers.

The general impression among CCU members regarding crowd control equipment is that the minimal, most essential, and most economical equipment has been issued. Thus far this seems to suffice.


During the research, the following recommendations were made with regard to improving the capacity to perform public order policing.


Policy and legislation

In-service training


Physical fitness

feature-5icon-printerlogo-chlogo-frPSC REPORT