Top cop: POP at breaking point

STRETCHED TO THE LIMIT. Police on patrol during an eviction operation in Germiston, in November 2010. Picture: Neil McCartney.

Ongoing service delivery protests are stretching the Johannesburg Public Order Policing branch of the South African Police to breaking point.

A shocking letter in possession of The Citizen details the branch’s operational capacity due to a shortage of manpower and limited resources.

Dated November 28, 2013 and signed by Commander Makhubele, head of the Johannesburg unit, the letter is addressed to the head of the province’s Operational Response Service. It bluntly states that POP Johannesburg is unable to fulfil its mandate.

“POP Jhb has Eight Clusters and 52 Police stations in our policing area along with the amount of events (sports, protest and international),” the first point reads. “Policing of these areas and events cannot be exercised professionally.”

The letter goes on to specify problems faced by the branch given its limited resources. “Various specialised units request our assistance on an on-going [sic] basis (eg; Sheriffs, City Power, PPU, Organised Crime Unit etc…). Assistance can therefore not be given to these units because of a shortage of manpower.”

The unit had too few operational members to cover its designated patrol area, the letter insists.

Administrative support, information office duties, consulate visits, operational room requirements and training needs were keeping members off the streets.

Highly trained members were standing guard instead of working. Others were not receiving training because of the ongoing protests.

In addition, many of the branch’s vehicles were breaking down. Parts to repair them were either not available or were too expensive.

Asked for a response to the claims, Dr Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies, a former police assistant commissioner and head of operational coordination, agreed that Gauteng is probably worst affected.

But he warned that the problems mentioned in the letter are almost certainly more widespread. “This would be true of many of the other units, especially in the larger urbanised settings,” he said.

According to figures cited in the letter, just over 12% of the unit’s vehicles had less than

100 000kms on the odometer. Close to half of the vehicles registered between 200 000 and

300 000kms. At least one had more than 400 000kms on the clock. Moreover, only around 24% of the branchs’ fleet of armoured Nyalas and Casspirs were licenced to drive on the road.

Dr Burger said that the branch’s serious incapacity problems went back to Jacky Selbi’s tenure as police commissioner between 2000 and 2009.

“He never understood the need to use quieter times for training, or to check vehicles and equipment so that they are ready for any new incidents,” he said.

As commissioner, Selebi shed half the branch’s units and staff levels, Dr Burger said. “The branch lost a lot of experience and expertise, especially at the command and control level.”

He noted that Police Minister Nathi Mthetwa last year admitted that POP was still 35% below 2006 staff levels.

“Increasing demands on POP in terms mean that the situation will become dire in the year ahead,” he said. –

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