Cape Towns roads are not being patrolled by traffic officers at night because of a critical shortage of about 340 traffic officers in the city. Picture: Supplied
Cape Towns roads are not being patrolled by traffic officers at night because of a critical shortage of about 340 traffic officers in the city. Picture: Supplied

City in critical need of traffic cops

By BRONWYNNE JOOSTE and MURRAY WILLIAMS Time of article published Jun 30, 2011

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Cape Town’s roads are not being patrolled by traffic officers at night because of a critical shortage of about 340 traffic officers in the city.

And metro police services are stretched so thinly across the city that just one officer, on average, is on duty in each of its 110 wards, making it “an impossible task” to handle all residents’ complaints, the city’s safety and security directorate has warned.

The situation is outlined in the Departmental Business Plan of the city’s Traffic Services for 2011/12, filed in a report to the city council.

The department has warned that its “critical staffing needs” must be urgently resolved, because if current service levels are not maintained and if positions are not filled, Cape Town’s motorists’ needs “will not be met”.

Mayoral committee member for safety JP Smith said this morning: “We have about 310 dedicated uniformed traffic officers, and we need around 650. This means we currently do not have a 24-hour traffic service. If we had to deploy our teams into the night, we’d have to stretch them so thinly that their presence would be ineffectual.”

Instead, Smith said it was left to the metro police to patrol Cape Town’s roads at night, on top of the myriad other complaints they had to deal with.

“We have around 650 metro police officers. We run three eight-hour shifts, and one in four officers is always on a day off. This means that we have, on average, just over one and a half officers on duty in each of the city’s 110 wards.”

These officers had to attend to between 2 700 and 5 000 complaints from the public every night.

Smith said the city needed about 850 more metro police officers to attend to the public’s needs.

There was also a shortage in the Law Enforcement division, he said.

The city had about 400 members of this division who enforced by-laws such as public open spaces, informal trading, beaches, parks and other areas. It needed about 200 more.

“We have the most urgent need for more law enforcement in our business precincts across the city, from Bonteheuwel CBD to Belville.”

To ease the shortage of traffic officers at night, the city regularly deployed officers for “specialised” operations, such as anti-speeding, and targeted interventions by the undercover Ghost Squad, focusing on drunk driving, Smith said.

In its report, the traffic division said its officers also had to deal with traffic management at “major events”, including the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour and the Two Oceans Marathon, as well as with licensing, management and administration.

“It should be noted that members of the traffic department work a total of three duties per day, which means there is reduced deployment over specific periods of the day.

“The staff complement is further reduced through staff taking annual, study and sick leave. These resources are clearly not adequate for traffic law enforcement across the entire metropolitan area,” Smith said.

More large-scale events and the introduction of the Integrated Rapid Transit system had put more pressure on Traffic Services, the report said.

“Critical staffing needs exist in the enforcement environment and the increase in events and the introduction of the IRT system will severely impact on the small contingent of staff.

“It is essential that the City of Cape Town resources this service adequately to deal with future challenges.”

In the face of the shortages, Smith said, the department had learnt to use its resources wisely. Despite the situation and increasing number of big events in the city, Traffic Services had ensured there was “operational enforcement”.

“Unfortunately, we cannot always meet the demands of the public in terms of dealing with reckless driving and drivers running stop streets and traffic lights in residential areas.

“In all cases we have endeavoured to work smarter with what we have and have deployed various efficiency, productivity, accountability and other tools – such as new IT and dedicated units including the Ghost Squad – to ensure we give the public the best possible value for money.”

The city was also planning to expand the Ghost Squad and was training more officers for this purpose.

[email protected] – Cape Argus

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