5 minutes too slow

2014-10-14 00:00

POLICE in KZN take an agonising 103 seconds longer to respond to life and death emergencies than the average for South Africa, after two years of dramatic decline.

And they are a full five minutes slower than their own official target — taking a staggering 20 minutes and 45 seconds, on average, to react to crimes in progress.

The newly released SAPS annual report reveals that KZN’s police response time was well ahead of the national average just two years ago — but had since slipped by almost three critical minutes: more sharply than in any other province.

By contrast, Free State, Limpopo and North West have all improved their reaction, while the SAPS in the Western Cape and Mpumalanga are on scene in just over 15 minutes. The national average in the United States is 10 minutes.

KZN’s response time to less urgent crime for the past year was also more than four minutes worse than in 2012.

Dr Johan Burger — an Institute for Security Studies expert who briefs Parliament on reaction times — said, “There is definitely something wrong here. Obviously, death or injury or sexual assault, and certainly escape, can occur in those extra few minutes.”

Burger said he had previously reported three consecutive years of improved reaction times to Parliament’s portfolio committee on policing, but that there had been “significant declines” since 2012.

“I know that there is a major problem in KZN with the availability of police vehicles — with cars standing in police garages — which may be a factor. I’ve seen SAPS vehicles with grass growing through the bottom.”

A separate entry in the annual report bears out Burger’s suspicion. The “personnel-to-vehicles ratio” shows that there is one “active” police vehicle for every three officers in the Western Cape, compared to only one for every 3,41 officers in KZN, one of the lowest ratios in the country.

This year, the KZN Legislature heard that rural police stations, like Mid-Illovo, near Durban, had only half of their fleet in a working condition.

The response time figures reflect the time from when a crime is logged by a dispatcher to the moment “the response vehicle physically stands off at the complaint”. Burger said the figures were “slightly misleading” as many police rushed from their vehicles to stop crimes before radioing that they were on scene.

“Many officers are truly dedicated and are motivated to help people or save them as soon as they possibly can, but they are restricted by resources,” he said.

At least three neighbourhood watch groups in the Upper Highway area have stopped reporting their crimes to their local police station out of frustration at slow response times. Karen Buxton, head of the Waterfall 3 watch — and a former police officer — said, “Victims have often waited over 40 minutes for police to arrive, when our members and private security have already been on scene for half an hour.”

Burger said many police responders found themselves reacting to hoax emergency calls and more police professionals should assist the civilians who operate KZN’s three 10111 call centres.

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