Killer cops - 10Apr06<br>

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Killer cops - 10Apr06

Postby Rudi » Tue, 2006-04-11 15:15

Killer cops
Yolandi Groenewald
10 April 2006 03:59 ... _national/

Kagiso Superintendent Chippa Mateane killed eight people in a shooting spree
Colleagues and families are increasingly the targets of stressed of police members, a psychologist said recently. Christine Jordaan, who has treated more than 900 police members for post-traumatic stress disorder, also warned that this week’s incidents, in which two policemen went on killing sprees that resulted in 11 deaths, could spark a “suicide epidemic”.

“They are telling me: ‘I am going to shoot that donner [bastard],’” she said. “Or they say my wife does not understand me -- I want to kill her. And this is not just one or two policemen that are saying this.”

Recently, Kagiso Superintendent Chippa Mateane went on a shooting spree, killing eight people, including four colleagues, his girlfriend and a toddler. Before he was shot dead by police, Mateane also wounded his brother.

Less than 48 hours later, another policeman shot dead his girlfriend -- also a police member -- before turning the gun on himself at his home in Johannesburg.

Early in 2003 the South African Police Service said it was an accepted fact that South Africa had the highest incidence of suicide among police officers worldwide.

Minister of Safety and Security Charles Nqakula revealed last year that 506 police members had killed themselves during the past six years; 58 in 2005. In March last year the minister added that police officers who killed themselves had used service firearms in 79% of suicides in the past two years.

This week, Jordaan said police statistics “did not take into consideration that many policemen deliberately put themselves in harm’s way to insure that their widows would have insurance paid out to them”.

But, increasingly, there are no widows left behind. Nqakula’s statistics showed that in 19% of police suicides, murder or attempted murder had occurred beforehand. In 47%, the suicide also involved the death of a family member or partner.

Last year, Western Cape safety minister Leonard Ramatlakane, speaking at the opening of a new police station in Langa, said it was believed that most police suicides were prompted by domestic issues.

While most critics believe that counselling plays a critical role in helping policemen and women, police statistics reveal that there are only 247 vocational counsellors available. This amounts to one counsellor for every 600 police members. The police service has three in-house units -- psychological services, social work services and spiritual services -- to counsel members in need. A 24-hour crisis line for police officials and their families was also set up in the late 1990s.

A spokesperson for police union Popcru, Boiki Tsedu, says the union believes the counselling service is insufficient and has called for more to be done. He admitted, however, that a big challenge was the perception “that police officers are expected to be strong and brave, and that going to counselling was showing a weakness”.

Tsedu’s claim is borne out by a Gauteng-based policeman, who told the Mail & Guardian he is “capable of handling my problem on my own”.

“Most of this anger is due to financial problems,” the policeman, who did not want to be named, said. “When we reach our home, we do not want to unload on our partner. Then our partner raises their own problems and often something snaps.”

A Pretoria-based police member admitted he had gone for counselling. “But, to be honest, it did not really help,” he said. “It was an hour long and afterwards I did not go back. No one told me to go back.” He said most of his fellow officers are reluctant to attend any counselling sessions. “They sit with their feelings, and managers do not really care to tell them to go for counselling. They only care when there has been an incident and they are forced to take action.” When asked about alcohol abuse, he whistled. “It is rampant.”

The policeman added that the issue of members having access to firearms off duty is a double-edged sword. Police members have to carry firearms, because they are obliged to help the public even when they are off duty. “People under stress often grab at the first conflict resolution that is available -- their firearms.” Police had to be taught there were other ways to handle stress, he concluded.

Family matters
“We are next. We are a family murder in waiting.” This was the first thought Karen Swart, a police officer from Klerksdorp, had when she read about the killing spree of Superintendent Chippa Mateane.

A month ago she had to revive her husband, also a police officer, after he overdosed on sleeping pills. “He has tried to commit suicide eight times,” said Swart. “But, as soon as he is well again, he has to report for service, and is given his firearm again.

“If he resigns, we will have nothing,” she said. Yet, the only thing that will save her family is if he does. “He has to stay on till he can be declared medically unfit.” But her husband has already threatened her and their children in their home with his service pistol. “I was sure that he was going to kill us.”

Swart’s husband was deployed in the townships during the Eighties, where he had to deal with violence, petrol bombs and faction fighting.

He reached breaking point when one of his best friends was shot dead in a robbery in 2000. He tried to commit suicide, but Swart saved him. Now he has tried to commit suicide so often that his office told Swart “they are not scared of his suicides any more”.

After one of the suicide attempts Swart called the police’s suicide helpline. A social worker was sent to the family, which “has been a blessing for us”.

Swart’s daughter has tried to commit suicide and her “rebellious” son has been in grade nine for two years -- he repeated grade eight twice. “I don’t know if we have a future,” said Swart. “I just know that something is bound to break soon.” -- Yolandi Groenewald
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