Building trust with the police

Building trust with the police

LT. Colonel Masiba of the FCS unit at the Khayelitsha Police Station.

It is 10 am on Tuesday morning. TAC volunteer Lumkile Sizila has arrived unannounced at the Khayelitsha Police Station to speak to Lieutenant Colonel Masiba, the unit commander of the family and children sexual offences unit (FCS) that works closely with the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in Khayelitsha.

Lt Colonel Masiba isn’t fazed by Lumkile’s surprise visit. ‘This is what they do, they just arrive,’ she says laughing. She takes a more serious tone when she explains that her door is always open to the TAC: ‘They are the community, we must respect the community,’ she says.

The FCS unit at the Khayelitsha Police Station, deals with rape cases, and other sexual offences for minors under the age of 12. When it is quiet, they deal with five cases in a week, and when its gets busy, especially towards the festive season, the unit can deal with 10 to 12 cases.

Across the country, ordinary citizens have had difficult relationships with the police; Khayelitsha is much the same.

There is a strong belief among communities that if you do not know someone personally within the police force, it is unlikely that your case will be attended to.

This belief is an perception that the colonel does not deny. She speaks frankly about the community’s lack of trust in the police – it is the reason the TAC-FCS relationship is so important.

Because the TAC belongs to, and is so well-entrenched in and trusted by the community, people who need the help of the police will often turn to the TAC for support. ‘The community trusts the TAC, and that gives us an opportunity to make sure that we filter the right information to the community,’ says Colonel Masiba.

The TAC has become a mouthpiece for both the community and the police. ‘When we take a case, there are certain processes we have to follow, and people don’t always understand that, and it looks like we are not doing anything,’ explains Colonel Masiba.

In order to get around this, the FCS is happy to brief TAC representatives on the status of various cases. If TAC members have an understanding of what is going on, they are able to relay the information back to the community, ensuring that nobody is left out.

Other than relaying information about specific cases, the TAC also works with the community on ways to interact more effectively with the police on an individual level, and educating people about police processes, making it easier for them to work together to fight sexual abuse. While levels of abuse have dropped in Khayelitsha, the battle is far from over. With her door open to the TAC, Colonel Masiba is certain that bringing an end to sexual abuse is a battle that they can win together.