Source: Corruption Watch
Corruption Watch (CW), in response to the many whistle-blower complaints it has received on police corruption, and inspired by its engagements with communities experiencing police violence and abuse, has launched an interactive open data tool – Veza (a colloquial term for ‘reveal’ or ‘expose’). The first of its kind in South Africa, Veza improves transparency in policing in the country, and places the power to hold the South African Police Service (SAPS) accountable in the hands of the public.
The stand-out advantage of this innovative tool is its ability to equip a wide range of people, from researchers, journalists, activists and communities to the public at large, with the knowledge and insight to demand better and more accountable policing.
The Veza tool provides information at national, provincial and district level. It features interactive maps of police corruption trends and hotspots, information relating to the public’s rights when encountering the police in various situations, and data on all 1 150 police stations across the country, such as locations, resources, budget and personnel. It also enables users to rate and review police stations based on personal experiences, to compare resources of up to four stations, to commend honest and ethical police officers, and to report incidents of corruption and police misconduct that are immediately geo-located through the tool.
“Since Corruption Watch’s inception in 2012, innovation has always been central to our approach in addressing systemic and pervasive corruption in South Africa,” says Kavisha Pillay, head of stakeholder relations and campaigns at Corruption Watch. “The launch of the Veza tool signifies a new era for Corruption Watch as we explore how transparency, big data and accessible technology can be used to combat corruption and advance broader social justice issues.”
This technological offering was made possible by CW’s selection at the end of 2018 as one of four winners of the Google Impact Challenge, which aimed to encourage local innovators to solve a social problem using technology. The support from this grant and other donors enabled the CW team to develop an idea to address the specific problem of police misconduct and abuse of power.
Veza is designed to encourage public participation in the matter of transparency in policing, while also providing access to key information about police operations. Its use will help to strengthen the role of the public and civil society in calling for change in the SAPS, and in reducing the power imbalance that exists between the SAPS and members of the public.
It also provides an opportunity for the SAPS and other government structures to embrace the concept of open data and public access to information – this will go a long way to restoring public confidence in the vital role that they play in the country. Members of the police service can themselves benefit from the use of the geo-location feature that highlights hotspots of corruption, and gain valuable insight into the allocation and use of resources of their own police stations.
The data used to populate the Veza tool was obtained directly from the SAPS through the submission of a number of applications under the Promotion of Access to Information Act. The collection and verification of data is an ongoing process, and the team is continually working to address the current gaps in information from specific provinces, districts and individual police stations by applying pressure to the necessary bodies to disclose the relevant information, which is in the public interest.
The power of the Veza tool is in the extent to which it is adopted by the public, as the more it is used and information shared, the more involved they will become in how their communities are policed and protected around the country.