Confusion surrounds the fate of a top Nelson Mandela Bay police team after several members received SMS messages telling them the rapid response unit was being disbanded.
However, police management said certain members who were “on loan” to the unit were merely being returned to their stations. The specialised team – set up last year and tasked with responding to and investigating hijackings, armed robberies and house and business break-ins in Nelson Mandela Bay – has been highly successful, and disbanding it would be a blow to crime-fighting efforts. Several other specialised police units have been disbanded in recent years, including those fighting child protection and poaching. Rapid response team members said they had received the SMS messages on Tuesday, telling them the unit was being disbanded due to a shortage of manpower and a lack of vehicles. One angry officer, who did not want to be named, said he was shocked when he received the SMS instruction to return to his station because the team, headed by Captain Rassie Erasmus, would no longer operate.
“I do not think it is about manpower or vehicles. We have done so well in the last few months and when you read the papers you can see all the work we are doing. I think there was a lack of communication in management because sometimes we did not know if we were coming or going and there were no set plans,” he said.
The officer said some of his colleagues were now very despondent because they felt their high success rate had been in vain. “I know a lot of the guys now feel like they do not want to be part of another task team. You work so hard and you have such a good success rate, but then you get one SMS and everything is over.”
He said all the team members had gone beyond their normal working duties to deliver. The team had worked on important cases like ATM bombings in the Bay, had cracked cases of cable theft and cash-in- transit heists, and had recovered millions of rands in stolen goods. “We just feel as if we have all put our heart and soul into this team and making it successful. Sometimes you have to work up until 7pm and then you get called out at midnight on another case.
“Our success rate was magnificent and we worked really hard.” The officer said the team, which had been operating since July, had 30 members who would all be returning to their individual stations.
He said management had still not given the members a legitimate reason for the team being disbanded. However, police spokesman Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg said the unit was not being disbanded but that some of the members were being sent back to their original stations. “In the beginning these officers were only borrowed temporarily from stations, to enhance the rapid response team.
It was always promised that they would return to their stations. The fact that they were borrowed in the first place also crippled the stations because of the shortage of manpower and vehicles.” She said all the members and vehicles were being sent back to their stations and that she suspected some members might not be happy with the decision.
“There is a shortage of manpower everywhere but the original members who started off the rapid response team will now remain. Also, they will be enhanced by the dog unit and the flying squad.”