Mowbray author delves into familiar world of policing

Author of Good Cop Bad Cop Andrew Brown with Mervyn Sloman, owner of the The Book Lounge.

Two jobs, a huge legal practice, father of three and seven books, Andrew Brown is not scared to take on new challenges.

Writing about the police service is a sensitive issue and is sometimes frowned upon by those in the upper echelons of police management but Andrew personal anecdotes – written by an insider in the force – first in his book Street Blues, and now in his new book Good Cop, Bad Cop, provide us with a unique insight into the challenges of being a good police officer in South Africa.

While he may be hoping that his latest book will create ripples within the police force at national level, he is more interested in opening up debate among readers as to the role of policing 20 years into democracy, and how the police ought to relate to communities under socio-economic stress.

His first work of non-fiction, Street Blues, published in 2008, is all about his work as a police reservist based at Mowbray police station.

“The new book is similar in that it’s written in the same anecdotal style and yet it’s far more serious, with a bit of southern suburbs thrown in for lightness,” said owner of the much loved indie bookshop, The Book Lounge, Mervyn Sloman.

He was in conversation with Andrew Brown who told the Tatler it is his bookshop of choice, where he has launched almost all of his books. Once an enemy of the apartheid police, Andrew joined SAPS as a police reservist in 1999 working from Mowbray police station, in the area he lives. This despite him having a string of serious convictions in the 1980s which have resulted in his identification on international databases as a “Politically Exposed Person”.

Working at Mowbray allows the flexibility to work in other areas when needed, such as Masiphumelele where there was a request for volunteer reservists to help get the mobile police station running. Since its launch in November last year, he has spent many hours there, mostly on foot patrol.

“The place gets under your skin,” said Andrew at the launch and in response to Mervyn saying this township off Kommetjie Road is the cornerstone of the book.

“Since visiting South Sudan and seeing what it’s like to live in ground zero, with no basic amenities such as water, electricity, I see similarities in Masiphumelele,” said Andrew.

He spoke of the comparison of arguing with logic when someone hears their neighbour being murdered and cannot get the police to come and yet hundreds will be there if he burns a tyre.

Painting a picture of how people live, he said a lot of the book is dedicated to policing in Masiphumelele. Of how he, a middle-aged umlungu – a Zulu word meaning white person – unarmed, wearing a police uniform, walked between shacks where people hugged and kissed him, invited him for tea. “This was after months of protest action and fighting with the police. All I got was gratitude,” he said.

Reading from the chapter “Welcome to Masi”, he tells of a game played with children in the township. A tale with a moral. “Is the next generation going to view policing as something to endure, avoid and survive, or are they going to grow up playing games on streets kept safe by the presence of good police? That is not a choice we can make tomorrow: the children are on the streets right now.”

Mervyn points out that the tone at the beginning of the book differs from the message at the end, of what should be and what is. “I’m writing post Marikana. Marikana changes everything. It’s a more serious book, more troubled about where we are now. The role of the police is to be a service to communities and not a force to suppress social discontent. And yet with 14 police recorded protest actions every day – people who are saying something is wrong in their community, no toilets, no water – most are non-violent, some are disruptive, all require police intervention,” said Andrew.

He told a story of a visit to Bushbuck Ridge where the road was blocked by the community who were complaining that water pipes were there but there was no money to get them to work. They had had no drinking water in their community for years. Andrew spoke to the police captain who told him, “I’m issued with a rifle, not a spade.” Five years later Andrew returned and found the situation was the same, the barricades still there. But the book is not all gloom and doom, Mervyn spoke of the humour, the jokes, and paisley pants and a naked author. But we will have to read the book to find out more.

In Good Cop, Bad Cop Andrew provides a personal account of the perilous and often conflicting work of a SAPS officer. He describes being shot at, arresting suspects in a drug bust, chasing down leads in a homicide investigation and keeping the peace during the UCT student protests.

“This book is a reflection of where we are now in South Africa. For me it’s Andrew’s humility, honesty, humanity in which he makes himself vulnerable. It’s a book that made me laugh and cry within a couple of pages,” said Mervyn.

Good Cop, Bad Cop is published by Penguin Random House.