About Crime Intelligence (SAPS)

SAPS videotaping an anti-xenophobia protest in 2011

How intelligence methods have become part of policing of protest

The Crime Intelligence Division, which falls under the South African Police Service, is responsible for gathering intelligence on criminal activity, to support police investigations and to make crime-fighting efforts more effective. Crime Intelligence also has authority to use surveillance, and do covert and undercover operations, such as infiltrating crime syndicates.

However, there is also a lot of evidence that the police’s Crime Intelligence Division has also taken on a mandate to monitor community organisations involved in protest and other political activity.

When protesters are monitored

Many people who have been involved in protests may have observed police officers photographing or videotaping them during a protest. Some have even noticed police officers reading the placards that are on display, carefully writing down the slogans in a notebook.

So why is this happening? What many people don’t know is that police have received orders ‘from the top’ to actively gather this information, with a big role for Crime Intelligence.

This may explain why so many activists find themselves getting phone calls from Crime Intelligence officials – as this report shows – although it does not excuse it.

The shift to intelligence-led policing in protests

These experiences are only likely to get worse, given that in 2014, the police announced a policy shift to ‘demilitarise’ public-order policing and adopt more “intelligence-led” methods. This has led to SAPS seeking more resources to gather intelligence for its ‘public-order policing’ functions, including appointing more video operators and more ‘intelligence gatherers’, and extra funds for surveillance equipment such as long-range ‘listening’ devices.

These policies have been adopted without public debate or buy-in. This means our rights may be infringed without us knowing, and it can create a feeling of intimidation or distrust between activists and authorities. There are also no clear limitations on what information can be gathered and how.

The lack of safeguards makes the involvement of Crime Intelligence even more dangerous, as it has the ability to use covert and intrusive methods to get information, unlike other divisions of the police.

It is debatable about whether surveillance is actually a ‘demilitarised’ approach. Surveillance may be less violent than other methods, such as use of rubber bullets and tear gas, but can be extremely intrusive. If combined with political interference, intelligence-led methods may just lead to more targeted forms of violence, whereby authorities are able to identify leaders of protests – “troublemakers” – and target and harass them.

Anticipating criminal behaviour?

Another problem is that these approaches may encourage authorities to anticipate criminality among people who are actually exercising basic rights. There is a risk that authorities may begin to profile and predict who is ‘likely’ to engage in criminal behaviour, even if they have not yet done anything that is against the law.

Misallocating crime-fighting resources

When Crime Intelligence resources are allocated to monitor community organisations which engage in protest – the majority being situations where no crimes have been or will be committed – it means they are being diverted from investigating serious crimes such as robbery, hijackings and organised crime.

Gathering intelligence in protests: what does the policy say?

In March 2014, SAPS National Commissioner Riah Phiyega signed off on National Instruction 4, which sets out the most recent rules for using intelligence in public order policing.

Like previous policies, it has a lot to say about how police must gather information on protesters:

  • • According to the policy, when the relevant officer receives notice that there will be a gathering, his or her first responsibility is to “make an attempt to gather information pertaining to the proposed gathering by using the POP [public-order policing] unit information network (and crime intelligence network where appropriate).” It does not state on what grounds it would be appropriate to involve Crime Intelligence.
  • • From there, the policy says that police must do a “threat assessment” (to anticipate possible unrest) – again, drawing on Crime Intelligence among other units. According to the policy, the threat assessment does not call for new information to be gathered, but should draw on “available operational information”, including “history of peaceful or violent protests by the parties involved [and] past experience with the parties, suitability”.
  • • Police must then assess the likelihood of violence, whether the participants will be aggravated or carrying weapons, and determine “the intention of the participants” and “any other information which is of importance for the operation.” It does not outline what methods should be used. The policy is silent on whether or not Crime Intelligence officials should participate in any pre-protest meetings between police and the protester organisers, although as we will see, this sometimes happens.

Other aspects of the policy also have privacy implications:

  • • It states that POP units must have an Information manager “to take responsibility for the collection and supply of all information, before, during and after gathering to ensure informed tactical decision making in order to professionally police all gatherings.”
  • • Station commanders are given a vague mandate to use intelligence for pre-emptive policing, to “identify indicators of potential violent disorder in their areas by continuously gathering information…”
  • • According to the policy, “All potential or existing challenges and underlying factors must be analysed by intelligence and information structures…” – a very broad, vague mandate.
  • • The policy states that protests should must be videotaped, and the footage stored for evaluation and training.

This policy does not give clear limitations on what methods should be used for this kind of information-gathering, or any requirement that the police should choose the least invasive means to carry out such assessment. These provisions also encourage a form of pre-policing, without any evidence of wrongdoing. There are no guidelines for how long information should be stored or when information should be discarded.


• Why should the reasons for a protest be a factor in police responses?
• What is being done with all the information gathered?
• Does intelligence-led policing led to more secretive forms of abuses?
• How much power should be given to those who equate political stability with national security?

Download the report:


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