Wasting the police’s time

2013-12-05 00:00

AS a journalist, one often sees first-hand how people are either consciously or unconsciously wasting police resources.

A great example would be the recent protests by tenants at River Valley in Cato Manor, Durban. My colleague Ian Carbutt and I were covering the eviction of more than 300 tenants who had not paid rent to the developer for over three years.

The police were in attendance, enforcing a court order for eviction that the developer had obtained.

I counted more than 30 marked police vehicles and a number of unmarked ones. There were at least three Casspirs and a water cannon. Although not confirmed by the police at the time, there must have been more than 50 officers at the scene, as well as private security personnel.

The police were on the scene from about 9 am to well into the afternoon, and they stood around for most of the time. Despite little or nothing happening most of the time, the police officers, some dressed in riot gear, could not leave because of the constant threat posed by residents.

It was only when tyres were set alight that the police used a Casspir to break through the complex’s gate.

The incident got me thinking: while police officers are kept busy with these types of operations, one wonders how many criminal offences are being committed in the areas where the officers would otherwise have been stationed.

The whole exercise was a total waste of taxpayers’ money, thanks to irresponsible people who continue to take free rides on government-linked projects like this one. All this force would have been unnecessary had people been responsible and paid their dues.

And it placed a further burden on already underresourced policemen and women. Unfortunately, there have also been examples of people deliberately misleading the police.

Those who falsely report crimes or create unnecessary situations may not understand the consequences. The worst-case scenario is that it could result in a life being lost.

It is common for people who report a crime at a police station to be told that there are no vehicles available.

South African detectives work under immense pressure, juggling old dockets while taking on new cases.

The media is very critical of the police, which is sometimes justified. However, making false claims or resorting to unnecessary protest action exacerbates the situation.

In recent months, The Witness and other newspapers have covered stories where those reporting crimes have been caught lying.

In one incident, a 54-year-old Durban man opened a case of robbery with the police. The police subsequently found it to be a hoax. The man said he was robbed of his firearm, jewellery, a cellphone and R3 850. After an investigation using hi-tech equipment, the detectives established that no robbery had taken place.

Last year, a 47-year-old woman phoned the police, claiming she was hijacked in Chatsworth. On investigation, police found her sitting in the driver’s seat of her car in a parking lot.

It was alleged that she had lied about being hijacked because she did not have money for fuel to drive home. Police opened a charge of defeating the ends of justice and demanded R70 000 for the waste of resources, including the use of a helicopter.

In another case, which has not been resolved, a 24-year-old woman claimed to have been abducted and kept in a container, along with 12 other young women, in an unknown location in the province. Although the police have used numerous resources, they have yet to find the container.

The government has always warned against making false claims as this delays police giving assistance to people who really are in life-threatening situations. It leads to a waste of police time as officers drive or even fly to the alleged crime scene.

In the River Valley case, how much did it cost to dispatch all those police vehicles and officers to attend to something that could have been avoided had the tenants paid their rent?

Those who consciously or unconsciously mislead the police should take into account the damage they could cause to the real victims of crime.

• Chris Ndaliso is a senior reporter at The Witness.

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