WANNA see for yourself that the police service has created a culture of crime tolerance among its members? Read on.
There’s this guy, Victor Vass. A police warrant officer for more than 20 years. Now he wants to join the bomb squad. So he passes the psychometric and fitness tests and he’s all set to crack the next tests and then his bosses tell him he’s reached the end of the road as a bomb technician. He’s not going on the explosives training course. He can’t apply for a secret security clearance status.
Why not? Simple. He has a criminal record: convicted for attempted murder.
You might think Vass has been lucky to keep his job in the police despite his record. You might think he should shut up and make the most of his job. But that’s not Vass’s thinking. O no, not at all. Vass believes there’s discrimination at work here and he’s not happy.
So he’s gone to court complaining the police ‘unfairly discriminated against him’ by not letting him on the explosives training course and by not letting him apply for secret security status. He wants the court to order the police to let him apply for clearance and do the training. If he passes, he wants the court to order that the police must appoint him as a bomb technician.
OK, said the police after Vass instituted grievance procedures, so apply for clearance; if you get clearance you can do the training. That’s not good enough for Vass. The clearance process could take up to four years. Other candidates start training while they wait for clearance, he said, and it was unfair that he had to wait for clearance before starting to train.
Remember: there’s no doubt that Vass was convicted and sentenced for attempted murder. And that he kept his job in the police despite his record. Both sides agree this is all true.
Yet Vass told Labour Court judge Anton Steenkamp who heard the dispute that the police decision not to let him train for or be appointed to the bomb squad because of his criminal record amounts to ‘unfair discrimination’. You may not discriminate against someone merely because they have a record, he argued.
Vass was thinking about the Employment Equity Act. It says that no one may unfairly discriminate against an employee ‘on one or more grounds including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, family responsibility, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, HIV status, conscience, belief, political opinion, culture, language and birth.’
‘Ironic as it may sound’, said the judge, Vass relies on his previous criminal conviction for attempted murder as an ‘analogous ground’. In other words the fact that he’s not being allowed to train as an officer in the bomb squad shows ‘he is being discriminated against because he has a previous conviction for attempted murder.’ And discrimination on these grounds, according to Vass, is not allowed.
The judge considered the argument: ‘Does a previous conviction for attempted murder equate to an attribute or characteristic that impairs the fundamental dignity of people as human beings,’ he asks. ‘The question need only be asked to point out its inherent absurdity.’
‘The policy of excluding police members of the SAPS from certain positions because they have serious criminal convictions cannot conceivably amount to discrimination.’
Then he quoted from a previous decision by another judge: ‘Not every attribute or characteristic qualifies for protection against discrimination. Smokers, thugs, rapists, hunters of endangered wildlife and millionaires – as a class – do not qualify for protection.’
He added, ‘I am quite frankly astounded that (Vass) seeks to establish that having a criminal conviction for attempted murder and therefore being excluded from a position in the SAPS, impairs his fundamental dignity as a human being because of an inherent attribute or characteristic. Engaging in criminal activity is not an attribute or a characteristic. It is a wilful and unlawful act.
‘The Police Services should quite frankly be commended rather than penalised for excluding criminals from senior positions within its ranks.’
Being a convicted criminal doesn’t amount to a characteristic defining Vass as a human being worthy of protection and worthy of further progression within the ranks of the police, he said, and threw out the case.
Of course Vass has incredible cheek. But you have to ask – what gave him the idea that SAPS isn’t allowed to discriminate against police officers just because they have a criminal record?