Concern over new police tactics

2011-07-21 00:00

A NEW visible policing tactic has resulted in fears that the KwaZulu-Natal capital may be left more vulnerable to serious crime intead of seeing an increase in arrests.

Various senior police officers have expressed concern that a new order to police major roadways outside the city will see precious manpower occupied elsewhere rather than responding immediately in the event of serious crimes in the city.

The theory behind the strategy is to intercept criminals leaving the city via main arterial routes.

Response vehicles of the K9 unit and the highway patrol (flying squad) have been told to park at static points along the N3 towards Durban and Ladysmith, the road between Richmond and Ixopo and the Greytown road.

Speaking to The Witness on condition they weren’t named, police officers said that while this strategy may work in major centres, criminals in Pietermaritzburg seldom use main routes during their getaways.

“They know the back routes and use them. And while they get away we are stuck in cars doing nothing.”

Besides this being a waste of manpower and leaving the city vulnerable, they say, morale has plummeted among the police officers who are made to spend a full 12-hour shift sitting in a car on the side of the road, essentially twiddling their thumbs.

Said one police officer, “There is no job satisfaction. If a call comes in of a major incident and I want to respond, I have to first get permission from the radio operator and the colonel on duty to leave my post. No patrols are taking place.

“We used to be taught to go and actively hunt for criminals, not just sit and wait for them. I didn’t join the police to do this. The flying squad [highway patrol] were doing so well, but now they are just sitting.”

Another said that although he has been a highway patrol officer for 20 years the duties he now has to perform amount to that of a security guard.

The officers say car theft in the Alexandra Road policing area has increased by 40, while the arrest rate has dropped to a quarter of what it used to be.

Provincial police spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane said the strategy will enhance police visibility and allow officers to be available, when the need arises, on entrance and exit points and the N3 for quick response to any complaint in the immediate vicinity and surrounding areas of the city.

He said deployment is decided according to crime threat analysis and designated hot-spots.

Zwane insisted that the project is “showing results”, but police officers interviewed denied this.

“In terms of the daily crime threat analysis the deployments are producing positive feedback in so far as crime prevention is concerned,” said Zwane.

He was unable to quantify the numbers involved in terms of crime statistics, but insisted that there has been a decrease in crime since the strategy was launched.

Police officers said high-ranking police officers also want the new strategy to be reversed.

“The arrest stats are definitely down. We have made only a quarter of the arrests we usually make, while crime incidents have increased,” said one police officer.

Zwane explained that police on such static deployments are “not expected to remain in their vehicles, but to conduct stop-and-search operations, carry out investigations into suspicious behaviour, follow up information and to create an environment conducive to the prevention of crime”.

But police on the beat predict that there will be an outcry from the public when they are randomly stopped and searched.

They also said that “those who think their tactics will work don’t access our on- and off-ramps into town during peak traffic times”.

“No one could get there in a hurry, irrespective of how many lights or sirens they use.”

ANOTHER new visible policing tactic which is causing concern is an order that any police vehicle on the road must drive with its blue lights on at all times.

“I refuse to do it,” said one police officer. “It’s just stupid to drive at 60 km/h with your blue lights flashing and cars pulling off the road in front of you in all directions because they think you are going to an emergency.” Another said this would lead to irritation among drivers, who would eventually stop giving way at all.

Captain Thulani Zwane said this is also a crime prevention strategy “and must be seen as police visibility”.

When asked if drivers must still give way to police cars, even though there is no emergency, he said a car requiring right of way will sound its siren.

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