An intermittent water supply, smashed windows, broken lifts and a lack of security — these are the conditions police officers and their families living in Gauteng’s SAPS barracks deal with daily.
Poor conditions at barracks could have a negative effect on officers’ morale, affecting their performance, according to the Institute of Security Studies.
A constable’s wife at the Herdeshof police flats in Sophiatown, Johannesburg, said:
“We don’t feel safe. People come here to steal. You often find that people break into cars here. Imagine that, people come and steal from the police.” The block is in a suburb battling drug addiction and rising crime. The latest statistics for Sophiatown show that robbery rose from 142 cases in 2014-2015 to 239 in 2015-2016.
Cases of robbery with aggravating circumstances rose from 457 to 649 in the same period. Most of the garage doors cannot be locked and the lifts at the 15-storey Herdeshof barracks haven’t worked for more than a decade. “They tried to fix it a few years ago, but overnight the cables were stolen,” said a sergeant.
The police barracks opposite the Springs police station on the East Rand has not had running water for the past two weeks.
“We have to take a bucket and walk to the police station to fill it if we want to cook or wash ourselves,” said a warrant officer. There had also been burglaries at the barracks, said a sergeant. The lifts were removed in October last year, he added.
In 2015, officers at the Alexandra police barracks complained about an intermittent water supply and poor access control. A constable living there said renovations had started, but were “moving slowly”. Police officers received letters two years ago warning them that if they didn’t leave the barracks, they would be charged market-related rentals.
At the time, police management said those at the barracks paid 1% of their salaries for rent, capped at R200. The junior officers who live in the barracks after being transferred from other regions said they couldn’t move out if they were not provided with alternative accommodation. Police said the letters were an attempt to clear the buildings so that renovations could take place.
Police spokesman Major-General Sally de Beer said: “Over the past two years the Department of Public Works and the SA P S have held inspections and meetings with members staying at different police barracks. Health and safety in the barracks are a concern to the SAPS and are being addressed.”
Johan Burger, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies’ crime and justice programme, said police living and working in poor conditions could “feel that they aren’t important enough”.
“It could contribute to feelings of neglect and inferiority and that can have a negative effect on effective policing.”