Crime-busting unit canned

2015-09-24 09:34
The K9 unit’s Constable Bianca Cantello and her dog, Atilla, with Combined Action Team members at Kharina Secondary School ahead of the Community On Patrol (Cop) initiative.

The K9 unit’s Constable Bianca Cantello and her dog, Atilla, with Combined Action Team members at Kharina Secondary School ahead of the Community On Patrol (Cop) initiative. (Ian Carbutt)

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CAT, the successful crime-busting project, has been canned after local police management yesterday decided to ­disband the unit.

The surprise move was made after heated debates between local police management over the past two weeks over the future of the Combined Action Team (CAT).

Sources have revealed an internal power struggle between Brigadier ­Francis Bantham and Major-General ­Lucas Ngobeni — who now each hold the commanding positions of ­Pietermaritzburg’s two clusters — over the availablity of CAT in their areas.

These sources said Bantham fought for the continuation of the project while Ngobeni wanted it shut down.

The Witness discovered yesterday morning that the team had indeed been abolished.

However, police rubbished claims of internal strife, saying that the move came as a result of the current­ ­restructuring of policing clusters on a national level.

The highly acclaimed team made their final arrests on Tuesday when they brought down a burglary syndicate ­operating in upmarket residential areas.

Tuesday’s arrests were the last of more than 430 in the short time since the ­14-member team was formed in February this year.

In the eight months the team, made up mostly of police officers, recovered more than R10 million worth of stolen goods without one charge laid against a member or one suspect killed during an arrest.

The 11 police officers from the team have now reportedly been redeployed to their original stations along with all the police resources made available to the unit.

CAT’s executive management yesterday said they were not even given a formal notice that the project had been disbanded and heard it from other sources.

In a meeting with The Witness last week, Ngobeni said the team would be refocused away from serious and violent crimes to tracing wanted suspects.

“Every project has a start and end. CAT was evaluated and the goals were achieved. Now they will take on a new challenge in the cluster,” Ngobeni had said in that meeting.

However, since the clusters split in two earlier this week, police ­spokesperson Mthokozisi Ngobese said the team were disbanded because the cluster they were mandated to operate in has ceased to exist.

Ngobese said all projects, including CAT, were affected by the restructuring.

“uMgungundlovu now has two ­clusters which incorporates new areas with unique dynamics in terms of crime challenges,” Ngobese said. “Both cluster commanders will have to do a situational analysis in their respective clusters and identify their current challenges. Then they can decide which strategies as well as projects to implement.”

Ngobese denied a power struggle had taken place and said all units will now have to adapt to embrace the change of clusters. “All CAT members are police officers and are still fully functional in the community. The container may have changed but the content remains the same,” Ngobese said.

The news of the termination spread through the northern suburbs yesterday, leading to an outcry from angry ­community leaders.

Mountain Rise Community Policing Forum (CPF) chairperson Jay Jugwanth said they are “disgusted” at the decision.

Referring to a press conference held at Mountain Rise in June where ­provincial police commissioner Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni praised CAT’s successes, Jugwanth asked what powers her husband, Lucas Ngobeni, had to disband CAT when it was authorised at a provincial level.

“We were also told in a meeting last month that CAT’s lifespan will be extended by another year for tracing wanted suspects. Who is running the province’s police force?” Jugwanth asked.

Democratic Alliance ward councillor Jaiheen Singh described the decision as a sad day for the community.

Speaking last week when the rumours first spread of CAT being refocused to trace wanted suspects, African National Congress PR councillor Rachel Soobiah said the team had had a “great impact” on the community and that she was hoping they would be allowed to continue their work.

TEXTBOX

The Combined Action Team (CAT) by numbers:

•14 members comprised of 11 police officers and three security bosses.

•About 430 arrests, 50% of which was for murder and the rest for other serious and violent crimes like robbery and rape.

•0 charges laid against a member.

•0 deaths or assaults of suspects.

•More than R10 million worth of recoveries of stolen items including cars, electronic and jewellery

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  crime

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