Civilian Oversight of the Police in South Africa Mini-Conference

The Project on Strengthening Oversight of Police in South Africa, a joint initiative of the Open Society Foundation for South Africa and the Open Society Justice Initiative, aims to strengthen state mechanisms of police oversight while at the same time bolstering civil society engagement with the sector.

The overarching goal is to enhance police accountability in South Africa by building on the transformation and structural reform of public security policy underway since the 1994 transition.

Beginning in January 2003, the project initiated a series of consultations with a broad range of civil society organizations working on policing and public security issues, and with national, provincial, and local civilian police oversight bodies. This project phase included a review of developments in the field of policing oversight, an analysis of the key challenges facing oversight agencies, and a pooling of knowledge among practitioners, academics, and nongovernmental organizations with experience in monitoring police behavior in South Africa. Based on this process, a set of research needs was identified. The second phase of the project ran from October 2003 to April 2004 and focused on policy research. The following areas have been investigated:

  • The development of the National and Provincial Secretariats for Safety and Security as mechanisms to provide government with civilian policy management capacity, and their role in monitoring police performance.
  • Development and piloting of a monitoring tool for the Community Policing Forums. Established by law at every police station, Community Policing Forums are to improve police service provision at the local, provincial, and national levels.
  • Improve police transparency and accountability to the community.
  • Development and piloting of a capacity-building strategy and monitoring tool for local council oversight of municipal police forces.
  • Development of indicators for civil society and monitoring of "Democratic Policing."
  • Building and extending the knowledge base with a web site on policing accountability.

The May 10, 2004, workshop provided an opportunity for each initiative to report back on initial findings to stakeholders, and to reflect on potential uses of project results to promote and strengthen oversight. These discussions will inform the third, implementing phase of the project.

The conference was convened and funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa and the Open Society Justice Initiative, who are interested in supporting and strengthening police accountability and specifically oversight of the police in South Africa. It followed a meeting in February 2003 of a small group of nongovernmental organizations concerned with civilian oversight of the police. The aims of the meeting were to review developments in oversight of policing in South Africa over the last decade; to identify key challenges facing the oversight agencies at present; to share experiences of monitoring and overseeing police agencies in South Africa; to strengthen civilian oversight of the police agencies in South Africa.