Saturday, December 17, 2011
Super cop flop
Super cop flop
December 17 2011 at 08:46am
David Tembe returns the salute from his officers at their inaugural parade in Pretoria. Picture: Dumisani Dube.
South Africa’s nine-month-old super traffic cop unit is in a total mess. The Saturday Star can reveal today, as the country braces for the annual road carnage, that the National Traffic Police Intervention Unit (NTP), established to crack down on drunk driving and corruption and to reduce deaths on national roads:
l lacks the personnel and resources to operate across the country and has only operated in four provinces;
l has no fast-pursuit vehicles, only 16 luxury 4x4s for 250 officers;
l is saddled with hi-tech equipment that doesn’t work;
l has officers that are not properly trained; and,
l is embroiled in an ugly turf war in Gauteng.
This week, a senior Ekurhuleni metro police officer called the establishment of the NTP “a disaster”.
“These guys are driving around in big cars, they come to our areas, take over an accident scene and they mess it up, with no accident report issued,” he said. “There is nothing these guys are doing that we don’t do; in fact, they don’t even know what they are doing, in their jurisdiction, and they are highly inexperienced.”
The NTP was launched with great fanfare by Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele in March. Ndebele billed the NTP as the “crack force” that would target speedsters, drunk drivers and other traffic offenders.
The unit’s 250 officers were said to have received specialised training at the Tshwane Metro Police Academy in Pretoria West.
But the Saturday Star has established that the officers underwent no special training and in fact were trained “strictly for traffic enforcement, unlike local metro cops”.
It is understood the unit is dependent on local metro cops for equipment such as breathalyzers to deal with drunk drivers and has no high-speed vehicles or motorcycles despite policing highways with high speed limits.
During the unit’s launch, Ndebele said the NTP would be spread around the country’s national roads, especially in outlying areas. But to date the NTP’s 250 officers are based in Gauteng – in only 16 cumbersome 4x4s, or one vehicle for every 15 officers.
NTP officers, who may not be named, told the Saturday Star they couldn’t arrest reckless drivers on the road because they have no vehicles to put them in.
“We have to call the SAPS, the municipal metro cops or the provincial traffic people with their cars to fetch the suspects,” said a source.
NTP chief David Tembe declined to comment, referring all questions to the Road Traffic Management Co-operation (RTMC), under which his unit falls.
RTMC spokesman Ashref Ismail denied that they had ever referred to the NTP as an “elite unit”.
“It is the media that labelled them [NTP] super cops. We simply said this was a highly-trained unit that was going to work with the local metro cops and provincial traffic authorities when required to, as an intervention,” said Ismail.
“These officers are the first crop of the new 12-month course for all traffic officers. Before, traffic officers were trained for six months but these guys have moved on to 12-month compulsory diploma training. Fifty of the officers went through specialised training with the SAPS. Training is an ongoing thing for us and additional training will be introduced to other officers.”
He conceded resources were a challenge because of limited funds. He also admitted that the NTP did not have high-speed pursuit vehicles despite speed being one of the major factors that contributes to road deaths.
He could not explain why the number plate recognition system set up in the cumbersome 4x4s has not worked since April.
Ismail cited a “software challenge” regarding the loading of the information which would be linked to the eNatis to check up on the outstanding fines and road offences of all motorists.
“The key priorities of the NTP are high-impact operations that will bring road offences down, reduce drunk driving and fatalities,” he said.
“When officers go for additional training there will be specialised units formed in such areas as reconstruction and investigation of accidents. Already one guy from the unit went overseas for training and when he returns I’m sure the unit will be expanded. This group is not even a year old and resources are limited. They are doing their best with what they have got.”
Howard Dembovsky, chairman of Justice Project SA – a motoring lobby group – said the NTP was not everything it was made out to be.
“It has become apparent that they do not only lack the authority that they should have, but their officers are also extremely inexperienced,” he said.
“The hype that was made out of these guys was unwarranted. They are supposed to cover national roads with only 16 vehicles.
“It’s a joke.” - Thabiso Thakali