Durban, an off-duty police officer(Michael Jameson) was shot and killed while attempting to prevent a hijacking. The shooting happened right outside his daughter’s school. Warrant Officer Michael Jameson, 52, was picking up his daughter from school at 14:15 on Wednesday when he saw a hijacking in process, according to police spokesperson Colonel Athlenda Mathe.
According to news24.com, “[Jameson] went on duty right away and responded to the event. The suspects opened fire after noticing the member was armed. The member returned fire but died on the spot from his injuries “Mathe stated. The assailants bolted from the scene.
Michael Jameson was one of roughly 800 SAPS members who have been killed, on and off duty, in the last decade.
The SAPS statement that was issued following Jameson’s death was typical of statements that are usually issued following the killing of police in the line of duty.
The statement says that Jameson’ died a hero as he died serving and protecting the people of this country’ and that ‘no effort will be spared to track down’ the hijackers who killed him.
SAPS National Commissioner General Fanie Masemola has sent his condolences to Jameson’s family, friends and colleagues, the statement also says.
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The 24-hour rule
It is indeed appropriate to honour the act of self-sacrifice that led to Michael Jameson’s death.
But Jameson’s death also raises questions about neglected aspects of police safety in South Africa.
Michael Jameson decision to intervene in the incident is likely to have been influenced by the expectation that police officers must be ready to take action against crime in their presence, whether they are on or off duty.
In SAPS terminology, this is where off-duty members ‘place themselves on duty’.
Police regulations provide that they may place themselves on duty when they are off-duty if a crime takes place in their presence. But they provide no clarity about when this is required or expected.
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It is widely believed, including within the SAPS, that police who encounter a crime in progress while off duty are expected to intervene.
Few police appear to clearly know exactly what is expected of them in this kind of situation. Some believe that failure to take action if they encounter a crime while off-duty would be a dereliction of duty.
When asked about it, police often defend this as a necessary duty that is integral to policing. Doing away with the practice would negatively impact on public safety, some of them say.
Others feel that it is necessary in relation to public expectations of the police. ‘What will people say if the police just stand around and do nothing?’ is a typical reply.
Heightened risks from off-duty interventions
Most on-duty killings of police are related to interventions by police, many during robberies or when pursuing robbery suspects.
As Jameson’s death highlights, off-duty police may also be killed when intervening in crimes that are taking place.
The idea of police ‘placing themselves on duty’ when they encounter a crime in progress is not unique to South Africa.
In the 1990s, US policing experts William Geller and Michael Scott, discussed the issue in their book Deadly Force: What We Know. At that time, they said, the responsibilities of off-duty police were widely seen to include ‘aggressive intervention’ involving ‘termination’ of the crime and arrest of suspects.
But in the US, it is now widely recognised that police who are off duty, may be at a severe disadvantage compared to on-duty colleagues.
A decade ago, the SAPS acknowledged that off-duty police who intervene in crimes in progress face additional risks.
The 2009 SAPS annual report states that this is because off-duty officers usually do not wear bulletproof vests, and do not enjoy the protection afforded by being in the company of colleagues and are less vigilant than when they are on duty. They are also out of radio contact with other officers.