The lines have been blurred between real police and those posing as officers, severely undermining the public trust as people are no longer certain whether those in uniform are there to help them or rob them.
The Eastern Cape has witnessed several recent cases where criminals in police uniform have robbed or hijacked residents or businesses.
Compounding the situation is that in some cases real police officers are involved in crimes themselves.
This week, the DispatchLIVE established that a well-organised gang of armed robbers dressed in full police uniform and driving cloned police vans is operating in East London.
A cloned van is a normal bakkie fitted with blue lights and fake stickers resembling those of police.
The gang is robbing businesses and conducting fake raids at taverns to solicit bribes.
The provincial police’s organised crime unit is searching for members of the syndicate, which has struck four times in less than two months.
In the latest incident two “policemen” tried to solicit a bribe from an East London tavern owner over a “fraudulent” liquor licence.
A police source, who spoke to the Dispatch on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media, said the impostors fled empty-handed after the quick-thinking businessman, whose licence was valid, called a Hawks investigator.
Hawks provincial spokesperson captain Anelisa Ngcakani said a report of the incident has not reached the commanders.
The incident happened over the weekend in Southernwood, according to the source.
The gang tried the same trick at a business in Quigney but also failed, he said.
The syndicate was also responsible for hijacking a liquor truck on January 9.
Police say the “East London police van” that was used by three “policemen” in the hijacking of the truck on the N6 was a clone.
Whisky and other liquor worth R189,000 was stolen.
The truck driver and his colleague told the police they were stopped by three “policemen” who handed them over to six armed thugs.
On November 28, a Rhino Cash and Carry was robbed by five suspects who sped off in a van marked “Motherwell Police Cluster”. This vehicle was also a clone.
The robbers fled with money believed to be between R300 and R600,000 in cash.
Eastern Cape provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana said: “The cases are still under investigation and, as indicated earlier, the allegations that SAPS members have involved forms part of the ongoing investigation.”
But there are also cases where registered officers are accused of crimes.
A Mdantsane police constable is accused of the robbery of Highway’s Rhino Cash and Carry in Mdantsane on December 27.
The court case is underway and the officer remains in custody.