Traffic unit pounces

2012-03-15 00:00

THEY are a special unit of 10 and their mission is to help recover R12-million owed in outstanding fines by motorists in Pietermaritzburg.

That will mean arresting offenders at their homes or at work, even at night — no matter how small the amount.

On Tuesday the special enforcement unit of the Msunduzi traffic police struck in Willowton.

The 10-member unit was resurrected recently, after their work was put on ice when Msunduzi went into administration. In uniform and travelling the city in a kombi, the unit brandishes warrants of arrests and its members are not allowed to receive payments.

Errant motorists are taken to the nearest police station where they can pay their outstanding fines, or if they refuse, spend the night in jail and face the music in court.

Those who opt to pay then get a lift home.

And if you think you can handle one traffic cop, the unit travels and pounces in a pack — all 10 of them.

Deputy municipal manager for community services Kwenza Khumalo, who is in charge of the traffic department, said the unit had a clear mandate to recover money owed in fines.

“We’ll find you even in the boardroom or at a gala dinner. We’ll find you even in a relaxed shopping mood, because you need to pay the council what you owe before spending your money,” said Khumalo. But before the long arm of the law strikes,

The unit is not averse to tracing motorists first and encouraging them during a courtesy call to pay the fines.

But not everyone is happy. Questions have been asked by two motorists who received night-time visits from the team.

An employee in The Witness printing works, who did not want to be named, was almost arrested on Tuesday night,

He had actually paid the fine a week before. He said a traffic officer phoned him on Tuesday night to check whether he was at work.

Ninety minutes later he was called to The Witness reception to find five uniformed officers with a warrant for his arrest.

“I told them I had paid … Five guys coming to arrest you is intimidating. I don’t understand why they visited me at work when they could be arresting taxi drivers who break the law constantly.”

He was spared a trip to the police station after a call to his wife, who was able to supply a reference number to prove that the payment had been made.

Another driver, who opted not to be named, received an evening visit at his home more than a week ago. He accompanied the unit to the police station to pay a 2009 fine for not wearing a seatbelt.

Speaking to The Witness, his wife questioned whether the officers’ duty was to uphold the law and arrest criminals or whether they were debt collectors. “Where are these officers when the robots are out and motorists need them to direct traffic? I’m sure they are getting paid overtime.”

Khumalo said the unit was not paid overtime. Although there was an amnesty in place, the municipality could not rely on drivers to come forward and pay.

“We have to persuade the motorists. We ran traces of who owes us the most and verify who stays where and who works where,” said Khumalo.

He said national Treasury was aware of the programme.

Automobile Association spokesperson Gary Ronald said the officers were within the law to execute warrants of arrests to compel motorists to pay up. He said that motorists should be certain that the arresting officers were in uniform and could prove that they were indeed who they claimed to be.

However, a lawyer who declined to be named, said the traffic officers might be subject to court action if they could not prove that a summons had indeed reached the targeted motorist.

The unit operates in tandem to other municipal initiatives to recover unpaid fines.

One is the traffic fine amnesty, which began on February 1 and will end on July 31, during which fines are halved when paid.

The amnesty is for fines incurred between January 2009 and March 31 last year, although it will also apply to new fines paid within 32 days.

The other is the ongoing automatic number plate recognition system (ANPRS), introduced in 2010, by which motorists with unpaid fines are arrested at roadblocks. The ANPRS is a system where traffic officers at roadblocks use a laptop connected to the Safe City control room at the Msunduzi Fire Station. Safe City CCTV cameras photograph number plates and the database checks for offences. By the time unsuspecting drivers approach the roadblock officers are ready for them with a list of their offences.

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