Car crisis for elite cops

2014-02-18 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG crime victim Shameela Jasat’s recent research revealed that the city’s flying squad currently only has five cars available to it to fight crime in the city.

With these meagre resources, they are expected to respond to urgent calls in 45 police districts and service a population of around 600 000 people.

She states that she was advised in subsequent discussions with senior provincial managers in the SA Police Service that the flying squad unit consists of 21 officers and “requires and should have seven vehicles”.

According to police management’s own calculations therefore, the unit was admittedly short of two vehicles.

Her information was that the unit ought to have nine cars and that four were in the garage for repairs.

Jasat says she was also told at the meeting that there are internal problems in the police service, and it was alleged that some officers don’t take care of their vehicles, with the result that they end up damaged and in need of repair. If that is so, it is another aspect that requires the urgent intervention of management.

The other concern that Jasat raised with the SA Police Service was that the cars the flying squad officers are equipped with are “underpowered, family-type sedans”.

With these, the officers are expected to give chase and apprehend increasingly sophisticated gangs of armed criminals driving the latest and fastest luxury vehicles.

These statistics are indeed a concern in the face of an ongoing onslaught of crime, such as the notorious five-minute gang robberies and burglaries that continue to plague our suburbs.

But possibly more worrying is her impression that the provincial head of the SAPS emergency services was more interested in conducting a “witch hunt” to find out who gave her information, than in addressing the vehicle shortage.

Provincial police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naidoo told The Witness that it was “ highly unusual for a member of the public to dictate to police what type of equipment to purchase”.

“By entertaining the personal preferences of individuals, we might find ourselves guilty of deviating from our internal supply chain policies and the Public Finance Management Act.

“Management of the SAPS is charged with the responsibility of purchasing equipment required by the SAPS and there are no mechanisms in place to relinquish that responsibility to an individual member of the public,” he added.

Surely our SA Police Service is nonetheless answerable to the public at large, particularly in a scenario where in a crime-ridden society, victims of crime are too often told that there are too few vehicles available for police officers to attend to their complaints?

As taxpayers and victims or potential victims of crime, the community is entitled to demand that the SA Police Service has adequate resources to protect them and their property.

It also seems that Jasat’s investigation has only scratched the surface.

Anonymous sources reacting to the article in The Witness have reported a general widespread shortage, as well as abuse, of state vehicles within our police service.

Allegations have been made that some commanders take state vehicles home and use them as if they are their private cars, while other dedicated police officers are forced to use their personal cars in order to carry out their jobs.

According to the SA Police Service website, a flying squad official is required to “provide a quick response to priority, serious and violent crimes in progress in an attempt to apprehend the suspect and to limit possible further danger to the victim”.

“He/she stabilises the crime scene by arresting the suspect, protecting and securing the crime scene before the arrival of the investigating officer.

“Visible policing is done by means of vehicle patrols.

“They are also involved in crime prevention. Other functions include assistance to police stations in attending minor complaints, serving as back up during policing of major events and attend to suicide scenes.”

This surely cannot be achieved with five, or even seven, underpowered cars shared between 21 policemen and women?

If we want to win the war against crime, we need someone who will take responsibility to ensure that our policemen and women are equipped with the tools they need to take on criminals on their own terms.

We can only hope that KwaZulu-Natal’s top brass in the SAPS will take heed and take immediate steps to remedy the situation.

• Ingrid Oellermann is a court reporter at The Witness

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