Durban - Dozens of metro police in a special team are to fan out daily across Durban suburbs and parks to arrest all vagrants.

On Friday in the first swoop 45 vagrants were arrested and among them were found to be nine “most wanted” criminals.

In a desperate drive to make the city safer, police have called on citizens to alert them to vagrants and the squad of 60 metro police officers will then round them up.

During Friday’s inaugural operation, the 45 vagrants were taken to the Albert Park Metro Police Station for documentation.

This was followed by a verification process, where SAPS members use a sophisticated fingerprint identification machine which gives records of criminal activities.

Nine vagrants were arrested on the spot and taken to Durban Central Police Station.

The crimes, said metro police spokesman senior superintendent Eugene Msomi, included house breakings, shop lifting and assault.

“The men were charged and will be appearing in court,” he said.

“These guys have been squatting around the city committing crimes… from the old whoonga park to King Dinizulu park and now they’re just scattered all over the city targeting suburbs.”

The remaining 36 vagrants asked to be taken to their homes in KwaMashu, Bester, Umlazi, the South Coast. Some were from as far afield as Cape Town and Pretoria.

“This is a resource-based operation which costs a lot of money and manpower so we will only transport the ones from within KwaZulu-Natal,” said Msomi.

Msomi said the 60 officers will every morning drive through “every area in Durban” rounding up addicts and vagrants.

“We take them to Albert Park police station where we check if they are wanted for any crime. The ones that are cleared of any wrongdoing, are given two choices - to be either taken back to their homes or arrested because roaming the streets is breaking the law,” he said.

If the fingerprint machine links them to crimes committed in areas outside Durban, Msomi said officers from those areas would fetch them.

“There is no crime in what we are doing,” stressed Msomi, reacting to this week’s report about a stand-off between metro and SAPS officers over whoonga addicts, when the former were accused of “dumping” addicts and vagrants on the outskirts of eThekwini.

“We are not shifting the problem, but we are merely saying Durban can’t be expected to shoulder the problem alone.”

On Monday, metro police officers were confronted by SAPS members as they were about to ”illegally” dump about 50 people in Umzinto. They were stopped by “irate” Scottburgh police officers just before the Umkomaas off-ramp, who accused them of dumping people “in their area”. A 20-minute argument allegedly ensued.

On the same day eight metro police members were injured when their vehicle was pelted with stones by vagrants they had dropped in Umbumbulu. The metro police minibus overturned when it veered off a gravel road.

Msomi said there was no truth to the allegations, insisting the vagrants were transported to their homes.

The sad reality was that some of the whoonga addicts had come to Durban to study.

“What we’ve found, in partnership with the rehabilitation NGOs is that parents think their children are here studying. “They send them money, but that money is used for drugs,” he said.

“Since we moved the whoonga users from King Dinizulu Park there’s been concern that these people are moving into suburbs.

“With this new operation, we are saying to people if you see them in your area, contact us and we will fetch them,” said Msomi.

Meanwhile, civil society is mobilising for a whoonga indaba amid feelings that no long-term solution to the drug and vagrancy crisis is in sight.

- Independent on Saturday