Durban – Police incident reports are vital to investigators probing crimes. They keep commanding officers informed of what is happening in their precinct and, down the line, help prosecutors build a case for trial.
A few years ago, incident reports were primarily typed out on a sheet of paper, sent as a memo and put into a case file.
However, in recent times, in a world of super-fast communication where social media apps like WhatsApp have made connecting and sharing information easy, police incident reports are increasingly being placed on internal police WhatsApp groups. From there, they are leaked to community crime groups and members of the public.
The more salacious the crime, the more likely the incident reports will go viral online.
But police investigators and communities battling crime say leaked incident reports that go viral do more harm than good as they could jeopardise a case and put the lives of potential witnesses in danger. They also fear that rogue cops are sometimes behind the leaks.
The danger has been brought into the spotlight after the murder of Keri Bloem. She was shot in the head outside a restaurant on Tara Road on the Bluff, after the entire incident report, including the names and addresses of potential witnesses, found its way on community WhatsApp groups.
“Our witnesses are now in danger,” a police investigator, who requested anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media, told IOL.
“This is why so many crimes don’t get solved and the community think we are incompetent. The entire case here could fall apart because the witnesses are now known and the people behind the shooting could use this to intimidate them,” the officer said.
Bloem was shot in the head on November 9, while standing outside the restaurant with her boyfriend and other friends. A man, who was with them, was shot in the arm and taken to hospital.
The two gunmen, who had used high-calibre and small arms weapons, fled the scene in a Toyota Corolla sedan.
Police sources said Bloem and the man who was shot were in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the two men who opened fire on them that evening had intended to shoot someone else who had walked out the restaurant.
It is believed the intended target has links to the notorious Cartel gang in Wentworth who are waging a bloody drug war against other gangs in the area.
“The leaked incident report has everything in it, including the survivor’s home address. Do you think any of these people would want to co-operate with the police now that all their information has been shared? They know that these drug gangs are ruthless. This is why so many cases don’t get solved,” fumed the officer.
Wentworth community activist Desmond D’Sa, who has led several initiatives to rid the area of gangs over the years, said the leaks were so detailed that it could be elements of rogue policemen at play.
“It is widely known that there are a lot of policemen who work with criminals and gangs. The passing on of information to gangs has been going on for years. These corrupt cops know exactly what they are doing when they leak such reports.
“We have taken the issue of corrupt policemen working at Wentworth and Brighton Beach up to senior management, and nothing has been done to remove them.
“After we fought and fought, they established an anti-gang unit but because of the people they brought to manage that unit, the unit were sent all over the place and not to Wentworth where the real problem was. Until police management sorts out the corrupt police officers, we are always going to have this problem,” D’Sa said.
IOL sent the KZN police media a list of questions. It had not responded at the time of publishing. The comments will be added to the story when it responds.