Colonel puts officers ‘back in line’

* Colonel Dawood Laing, station Commander of Grassy Park police.

Grassy Park police station commander, Colonel Dawood Laing, didn’t mince his words when he addressed his officers and staff last week at meetings to put “things back in line”. This happened after the news that an officer at the station had been accused of allegedly sexually assaulting a community worker.

This is in addition to the community of Parkwood declaring “a vote of no confidence” in the community police forum and SAPS (“No confidence in the law”, Southern Mail, October 23).

Southern Mail interviewed Colonel Laing on Friday October 25 after his meetings with staff last Tuesday and Thursday to find out if the sergeant was suspended and if action was taken to restore faith in the police station’s officers.

Colonel Laing, who has been away on training, said: “For the seven weeks I wasn’t here, it was party time, so I brought them (the management and staff) back in line. I spoke to them about discipline, corruption and working procedures that were not followed.”

Responding to the case involving community worker Rogayba Adams and Sergeant Winston van Schalkwyk, where Ms Adams alleged that Sergeant Van Schalkwyk asked her to touch his private parts, at her home in New Horizon, Captain Laing said: “There had been a forensic investigation but I don’t know if any evidence was found, (to date), because I wasn’t here. However, we will not hide anything from the station and provincial side where members are implicated in such activities,” he told Southern Mail.

Colonel Laing said he can confirm that he received a withdrawal statement (on Thursday October 24) from the second case involving Ms Adams’s domestic worker, who was apparently slapped on the behind by Sergeant Van Schalkwyk. “I basically believe what she wrote in the statement, (when she withdrew her case) but to make sure everything is above board I referred it to the senior public prosecutor. She said she was ‘influenced’ to write the first statement,” he said.

Colonel Laing said the case had been dismissed and the domestic worker had gone home to Calitzdorp.

Of the sexual assault case laid by Ms Adams, Colonel Laing said: “We have applied for the member to be suspended up until the case is finalised or up until the provincial commissioner decides otherwise. We cannot hire and fire as a process must be followed. The discipline investigation is completed and it has gone to province (on Friday October 25) for a date on the hearing.”

Colonel Laing said cases of serious misconduct were not finalised at the station. “We send it to provincial where they will make a final ruling. Because we are bound by the labour laws of this country, we can’t just suspend this officer. I have placed him, temporarily, in alternative placement not to work in the area but he has to deal with complaints from the public, from the police station.”

Colonel Laing said while everyone was innocent until proven guilty allegations like these fell under serious misconduct. “If the member is found guilty then he will have to face the consequences that come his way. We will never cover up from our side any actions of any police member who does wrong, whether on or off duty.”

He said often when a community member made a statement there were “convictions”.

“It is easy for the public to say Grassy Park police are corrupt but to prove it we need statements.”

Colonel Laing, who has been in the police service for 38 years, has been at Grassy Park police station for 10 months. “I have been on a course for seven weeks. I have been away on leave for a month, and I was off sick for two months when I had my gall-bladder removed.”

Since he started at the station, he said, they had improved their reaction time (after a crime is reported) by five minutes. Robberies though are marginally up and house break-ins of businesses, including schools and churches, are up. However, he said crime stats for the financial year have gone down overall.

“Some people alleged that there is a shooting in Parkwood every day but we have reduced the murder cases to 40% in this financial year,” said Captain Laing. “We are allowing a small minority of gangsters to intimidate the broader community.

“We have 152 policemen and women at Grassy Park serving a population of 200 000-plus.”

Colonel Laing said he was “grateful” for the neighbourhood watches who helped them. “I have given them certificates of appreciation because unfortunately we can’t pay them. The community police forum is very critical of us which they should be as they get complaints from the community. However, I have implemented a system of a community complaints box where you can fill in a complaints register then put it in a closed box. Only one officer and myself have a key to this
box and I pledge to resolve the complaint within five working days.”

Colonel Laing said his plea to the community was: “If they have information they must come to me to make a statement.

I will immediately contact the Anti-corruption Unit to address the matter. If the people are not comfortable to speak to me they can contact me and I will give them the Anti-corruption Unit’s contact details if they want to contact them directly.”

Contact Grassy Park police station on 021 700 3940.