Durban - The 27 police officers from the disbanded Cato Manor organised crime unit are still drawing their salaries – cumulatively millions of rand every month – while on suspension since 2012.

Apart from provincial Hawks boss, Major-General Johan Booysen, against whom charges were withdrawn early this year, they are all accused of running a criminal enterprise but are yet to have their day in court.

Policing experts believe the skills of the experienced officers are being wasted while they sit at home awaiting a trial that could take years to finish, given the number of witnesses and accused who are expected to testify.

Those suspended include warrant officers who are paid in the region of R180 000 a year, and a major-general who earns about R700 000 a year.

Johan Burger, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said on Monday he doubted that the State even had a prima facie case against the officers.

He said it was “beyond belief” for the police to have shut the entire unit and arrested all of its members.

“If one or two were arrested I would understand, but the whole unit? It is hard to believe that 30 police officers were involved,” he said.

Burger said that the unit, which had investigated serious and organised crime in the province, should have remained opened.

“The unit, in spite of the serious allegations against it, had been quite successful in dealing with serious and violent crime and especially organised crime in KZN.

“By removing the whole unit you have just impacted the police’s impact in dealing with these crimes. Setting up a specialised unit does not happen overnight as the skills they accumulate and networks of informers they develop take years. The criminals are the only people benefiting from the fact they have been shut,” he said.

Burger suggested that there were ulterior motives for the unit’s disbandment, saying that it could have even been the work of organised criminals themselves.

The DA’s spokeswoman on policing matters, Dianne Kohler Barnard, agreed. She said their removal was meant to protect powerful people.

“To simply remove all of those members from their jobs when crime is out of control in Durban is terrible. It only points to one thing and that this has been purely political and about protecting certain people,” said Kohler Barnard. “It would be interesting to see what the court will decide.”

Thirty police officers were initially arrested but the number of accused is now 27 after the death of two of the officers, captains Neville Eva and Vincent Auerbach and charges against Booysen were withdrawn.

Eva, 45, who had a bacterial infection in his heart, died in November 2012, a day after his colleagues held a farewell for him as he had retired from the police service. Auerbach died of a heart attack in January last year, just four days shy of his 41st birthday.

Daily News