First 500 ready to fight crime

2020-02-04 06:00
Learner law enforcement officers participate in stress exercises at the City’s Metropolitan Police Department Training Academy in Ndabeni.

Learner law enforcement officers participate in stress exercises at the City’s Metropolitan Police Department Training Academy in Ndabeni.

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As a fake grenade drops to the ground, learner law enforcement officers launch themselves diagonally away from the would-be explosive device.

A split second later and a few metres away, they drop to the ground, face-down, bodies in a straight line, with the soles of their boots pointed in the direction of the blast.

Toes are kicked into the sand, hard, with flexed feet forming a shield. The thick rubber soles in position to catch most of the shrapnel. They hope. 

But don’t try this at home.

The soon-to-be auxiliary law enforcement officers were put through their paces at the City’s Metropolitan Police Department Training Academy in Ndabeni on Tuesday 28 January.

They represent the first half of the 1 000 officers to be deployed through the run of the year as part of the City’s Safety and Security Directorate’s Law Enforcement Advancement Plan. 

This initiative, a joint venture by the Western Cape provincial government and the City of Cape Town, will guide the City’s efforts to assist the provincial safety plan launched by premier Alan Winde last year.

Five hundred of these recruits will join the ranks of the City’s law enforcement services after their passing out parade at Athlone Stadium on Sunday 9 February. 

The rest are scheduled to complete their training by July.

The men and women, who received peace officer and traffic warden training, will be able to enforce municipal by-laws, issue fines and execute warrants of arrest.

On the day that People Post visited the academy, the officers were in the middle of tactical stop and approach training, which includes procedures to correctly and safely deal with potentially dangerous suspect vehicles in the field. 

Trainers, who play the role of the “crooks”, purposefully make the scenarios as stressful as possible, coming up with sneaky ways to throw the trainees off guard or to catch them out. 

Adding extra pressure to the already tense situation was the presence of two visitors – mayor Dan Plato and mayco member for safety and security JP Smith. They were there to inspect the officers’ progress.

Plato said he was pleased with what he saw. 

“We can’t send them to the streets without the necessary basic training. They are being trained by people who have years of experience behind them. I am confident that they will know what they are doing.”

The appointment of the new officers will be guided by crime pattern analysis within areas. The officers will be assigned to 10 key crime hotspots which will be announced at the passing out parade. 

Plato believes the programme will have a meaningful impact in helping to keep communities safe. 

“Safety is the primary responsibility of the police. However, as a caring government, we have to play our part in filling the gaps left by inadequate police resources in the city and province,” he said.

Smith said stress training played a crucial role in preparing officers for real-life incidents. 

“These exercises make them aware of the variables,” he explained, saying that they were repeated many times, imprinting officers’ actions and reactions and giving them a sense of control.

Smith says the recruits would go a long way to compensate for the loss in the provincial police staff. 

Today there are 4 500 less officers in the field than there were five years ago, leaving 85% of stations under-resourced, he said. 

He blames attrition for the huge reduction in police numbers in the province. He says over time, as officers retired or resigned, positions were not filled. 

“The dwindling in police officers has left communities bleeding. The first thing is to get the numbers right. Next is building competency, quality and refinement,” he said.

Going ahead, the auxiliary law enforcement officers will receive continuous, on-the-job legislated training and, after two years, they will advance to being law enforcement officers.

Sgt Vernon Johnson, one of the chief trainers at the academy, says the first batch of recruits have shown a tremendous amount of passion and drive.

“They are very enthusiastic. There were quite a few who had injuries, but they pushed through. Their level of dedication is phenomenal.”

During his 18 years as a police officer, Johnson has worked in the tactical response, gang and drug tasking, and substance abuse units. His experience is but an example of the many skilled and accomplished trainers at the academy who recruits can learn from. Johnson’s parting advice to graduating officers is: “As I mentioned in class, be aware of your surroundings, don’t get sidetracked and always watch your six.”

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