Durban - Drunken driving law enforcement in Durban has been severely hamstrung after senior eThekwini metro police officers forgot to order key testing equipment vital to their festive season crackdown.
Alcohol testing stations across the city were without essential blood bottles or medical staff, disrupting the prosecution of those arrested at roving roadblocks in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
The city has since scrambled to save face, insisting that “a shortage” has been rectified.
However, senior officers have lifted the lid on the shambolic operation, insisting that police officers who had arrested alleged drunk drivers were turned away from designated alcohol testing stations as recently as last week.
Fully equipped alcohol testing stations were donated to the city by South African Breweries on the understanding that metro police would staff and maintain the centres.
Specialised Dräger breathalysers, the results of which were initially admissible in court, streamlined the prosecution of offenders, as no blood testing was required.
However, a Western Cape high court ruling has scuppered the use of the Dräger system, and law enforcement officers have had to revert to the traditional blood-alcohol test in order to obtain a conviction.
In one instance, an officer was forced to wait for hours at Addington Hospital after he was turned away from the testing centre at Boscombe Terrace.
In a string of e-mails, it has been revealed that police have been ill-equipped to draw the blood of potential offenders in-house.
“On Friday, we experienced a challenge, with no nurse present at the alcohol test centre during the day. Information was received that the nurse would only be available from 7pm.
“We had to take the accused to the district surgeon, and this process took a long time – at least four hours. We therefore could not make as many drunken driving arrests as we would have liked to,” the officer wrote.
In his e-mail, he added that SAPS officers had complained, as they had been under the impression that the testing stations would be open 24 hours a day.
He outlined the shortage of blood bottles and breathalysers.
“SAPS also complained to me. They say they were informed the alcohol test centre would be open 24 hours, and with a registered nurse. Further to that, we had only three blood bottles on Friday that were in possession of the roadblock unit, and I could not find any at our charge office.
“Please arrange for blood bottles to be left in our charge office, and also, if it is possible, we need at least four breathalysers left at our CSC (client service centre) for our use, because it is time-consuming to travel all the way to the alcohol test centre each time you get a suspected drunken driver,” he said.
Metro police support services head Innocent Chamane, who is responsible for the procurement of the equipment, responded to the officer’s commander.
“Planning is paramount, so that we avoid this mudslinging. We all knew the festive season was coming, but we all relaxed until festive is here, and then do the finger-pointing ceremony.
“Nonetheless, give me specifications so that I will put this breathalyser on contract,” he said, referring to the blood bottles and breathalysers.
Chamane has come under fire in recent weeks for the controversial order to put down metro police dogs and horses that had been boarded because of age or injury.
A senior metro police officer, who could not be named as he is not authorised to speak to the press, described the situation as “shambolic”.
“Every year ,the metro police in conjunction with the SAPS take a strong stance on drunk drivers, and this stock and equipment should have been ordered long ahead of time, not two days before Christmas,” he said.
The officer added that shortages of blood bottles had been widespread, and that it had thrown the police’s effort to combat drunk drivers into disarray.
“We are meant to have staffed and stocked testing centres that streamline the process of drawing blood so that officers can speedily arrest as many offenders as possible.
“Now we have a situation where officers have to wait for hours for a district surgeon when we are supposed to have the resources available,” he added.
Another officer, who also could not be named, said he was aware of the shortage.
Repeated attempts to contact Chamane proved unsuccessful.
eThekwini Municipality communications director Tozi Mthethwa denied that there was a shortage of equipment.
“Despite a delay at the start of the festive season, blood bottles were delivered soon thereafter. There are sufficient blood bottles in stock to last beyond the festive season,” she said.