Bullet-proofed bobbies

2011-08-20 00:00

THEY may be awkward, but bobbies on the beat all seem to be wearing them, in spite of adverse comments at a police summit in Durban this week that bullet-proof vests are too heavy to be worn comfortably.

A snap survey conducted by the Weekend Witness at the four central police stations in Pietermaritzburg found that bullet-proof vests are very much in evidence, in accordance with a national directive that they should be worn even in charge offices.

Delegates at the summit expressed concern that police are vulnerable targets and declared that “police officers believe that bullet-proof vests are too heavy and they request that the weight be reduced”.

This comes after a spate of killings in the country. It is estimated that 60 police officers have been killed since January this year — 14 of them in KwaZulu-Natal.

Seemingly, station commanders in Town Hill, Alexandra,Loop Street and Mountain Rise police stations uphold General Bheki Cele’s warning that they will be held accountable for officers who don’t wear the life-saving vests at all times.

Said police spokesperson Lieutenant Joey Jeevan, “It is good news that our members are wearing the vests while on duty. The vests supplied to SAPS members comply with the specification of the Bureau of Standards. Currently there are no shortages of bullet-proof vests in the city.”

The vest is made of two ceramic plates, one on the front. The plates feel as heavy as concrete slabs and protect against 9 mm and .357 magnum bullets. There are also vests designed especially for woman.

Although officers feel protected while wearing the vests on duty they also worry that their weak spots are left exposed. The vest is worn on the outside and there is no protection for spots such as the throat and the lower body.

However, most agree that wearing the vest all the time protects them from unforeseen dangers that can happen in the field, such as criminals targeting the station for police weapons and a mentally unstable colleague wielding a gun.

Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union provincial secretary Kwenza Nxele said the union’s members are satisfied with the security measure.

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