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Lack of money takes toll on law enforcement

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Currently the department’s track record of arrests for drunken driving is unimpressive with only five arrests over the entire month of December

Picture: Danie van der Lith

THE SHORTAGE of money at the Sol Plaatje Municipality is taking its toll on law enforcement on the city’s roads, with a massive shortage of staff and equipment.

A new, more-sophisticated breathalyser machine that will lead to more convictions and fewer incidents of drunk driving, the Evidential Breath Alcotest (EBAT), was launched by the Johannesburg Metro Police Department earlier this week.

For the Sol Plaatje Traffic Department, this as well as other law enforcement equipment are likely to remain pipe dreams for the cash-strapped municipality.

Municipal spokesperson Sello Matsie confirmed yesterday that the EBAT machine had not been budgeted for by the municipality.

“The traffic section will, however, investigate the costs of the machine and submit a requisition for consideration.”

Currently the department’s track record of arrests for drunken driving is unimpressive with only five arrests over the entire month of December.

“The problem is that the procedure currently for the arrest of a motorist suspected of driving under the influence is long and time-consuming.”

Mastie explained that suspected drunken drivers had to be accompanied by a traffic officer to the police station, where a case had to be opened, and then the driver had to be taken to hospital for blood to be drawn.

“All this has to happen within a time frame of two hours. Often traffic officers have to wait for a doctor to draw the blood and miss the two-hour window. The blood is sent away for testing and the results take several months. Sometimes cases like these take up to 14 months before they are finalised.”

The EBAT device, however, eliminates the need for a blood sample to be taken as it gives an immediate printout of the driver’s alcohol level. It also takes into account the gender and age of the driver, and prints the results on thermal paper, which lasts seven years.

“Before purchasing such a device, our traffic department will have to check whether it has been approved by the National Prosecuting Authority so that cases can stand up in court,” Matsie said.

Speeding and jumping red lights are also areas of concern in Kimberley and here too the lack of law enforcement equipment is hampering effective law enforcement.

Matsie confirmed that the city only has two radar speed devices, both of which are more than 10 years old, while currently there are no red light cameras and there haven’t been for several years.

This is despite the fact that currently there is a portable speed device available on the market which can also be used for red light enforcement.

Several presentations have been made to the Sol Plaatje City Council for fixed and mobile speed cameras in Kimberley as well as red light enforcement cameras, but nothing has ever come of any of the presentations.

Speeding has been identified as one of the leading causes of accidents on several high-danger roads, like Schmidtsdrift Road, where fingers have been pointed at the local traffic department, with calls by members of the public for greater visibility.

The problem is further compounded by a severe shortage of sufficient traffic officers. Currently there are nine vacancies for traffic officers and the last time officers were appointed in the city was around eight years ago.

The department’s technical unit, who are tasked with road signs and markings, is also severely short-staffed, with five unfilled vacancies in the section.

With an estimated annual growth in the vehicle population in the city being 4 to 5%, the ideal staff compliment in this section is an additional 10 staff members.

“Traditionally, road signs and markings are painted at this time of year in preparation for the Easter road safety campaign. However, it is a challenge this year because of the current shortage of staff,” Matsie stated yesterday.

The traffic department is also preparing for the usual “babysitting” of youngsters who gather over weekends at places like the Oppenheimer Gardens, Kim-by-Nite and chesanyamas in the city.

“We would really like to have our officers out on the roads in full force over the Easter weekend as it is a busy time on the city’s roads with the influx of visitors and events like the drag-racing, but once again we will need to ‘babysit’ those residents who like to party out of their cars at traditional gathering places.”

Calls have been made by members of the public for areas like the Oppenheimer Gardens to be cordoned off for vehicles to discourage locals from gathering and partying in the street.