Police officers should be trained properly to handle public violence and strikes that turn violent, SA Policing Union (Sapu) president Mpho Kwinika said on Friday.
"Members of the police force lack the required skills to handle public violence," Kwinika said in Pretoria at Sapu's central executive committee meeting.
"Police cannot be seen as the enemy of the people."
Kwinika said communities often used violence during protests and strikes to be heard by authorities. He said the union was worried that not enough was being done to train police officers in crowd management.
In the Western Cape one person died during farmworker protests about wages and living conditions. The protest started in De Doorns last week and had spread to 15 other towns by Wednesday.
The protests started with table grape harvesters, who wanted to be paid R150 a day. Most earned between R69 and R75 a day.
Kwinika said violence like the shooting of 34 striking miners at Lonmin's mine in Marikana on August 16 caused people to lose faith in the police and their ability to protect them.
"It is important to turn around the tainted image of the police force," he said.
Police commissioner Riah Phiyega was expected to address the meeting.