Cops pull plug on 'blue light' task team
A police task team set up to investigate "blue light" hijacking syndicates with deep roots in the SAPS has been shut down - only days before it was due to make several big raids.
Members of the team of 40 highly experienced, hand-picked officers were told by their commanders between Tuesday and Thursday last week to stop all investigations into the syndicates immediately.
The officers were told to hand in all the information that they had gathered during their three-week investigation - after hearing on Monday last week that their operation had been extended for two months.
It is not known who gave the original order to end the team's investigations.
Gauteng commissioner-General Mzwandile Petros said yesterday that there was nothing sinister about the development and such task teams were ''never permanent''.
But a Johannesburg Flying Squad member said: "There is a lot of rot in our ranks. Some of our own members are involved [in the blue light syndicates]. We know them but we cannot do anything because we need to catch them in the act.''
He said the raids scheduled for later this week were designed to do just that.
"We have been given no reasons why we were shut down. All we were told was to stop everything, including gathering information on planned attacks, and locations of safe houses and weapons."
Gauteng police's General Pumza Gela, who ordered the establishment of the team, last month advised motorists not to stop for unmarked vehicles fitted with blue lights, saying the gangs, which included police officers, were dangerous and well armed.
The blue-light investigations team was established after the attacks spiked last month.
Motorists have been targeted for the past six months by blue-light robbers, mainly on the N17, N14, N1 and M1 highways, and through Johannesburg, Benoni and Germiston, on the East Rand, and Pretoria.
Blue-light robbers hijacked a Pretoria West sheriff of the court and a business owner from Kyalami, northern Johannesburg, in separate incidents last month . Both men were released by their captors.
Ryan Pickford, of Bryanston, northern Johannesburg, was hijacked in Main Road, Bryanston, last month. He was held for two hours at gunpoint after being "arrested" by men claiming to be police officers.
There were reportedly four similar incidents in and around Johannesburg on the same day.
The team has scored a string of successes in the past three weeks. Its members have killed two hijackers, arrested 38 and recovering 34 hijacked vehicles.
The team raided a house in Pretoria on Thursday, arresting three men and recovering blue lights and sirens, police radios, uniforms, pistols, ammunition and vehicles believed to have been stolen.
The raid occurred after police received information that three men who were appearing in the Bronkhorstspruit Regional Court on the same day were part of a blue-light gang terrorising Pretoria's eastern suburbs.
The men, who were appearing on charges of armed robbery, led police to the house.
The suspects are wanted in connection with a murder, eight attempted murders, and hijackings in Bronkhorstspruit, Cullinan and Welbekend.
Members of the team have unmasked several police officers involved in aiding the syndicates by providing tip-offs on imminent raids, and supplying weapons, uniforms, bulletproof vests, radios and blue lights.
Members of specialised units, such as the flying squad, are also allegedly helping the gangs .
The modus operandi involves either stopping motorists after driving behind them or setting up bogus roadblocks.
The Times has learned that the team was allegedly ordered to shoot to kill syndicate members - even if they were known to be police officers.
A Pretoria policeman yesterday said they were told to "take out" police officers working with the gangs.
"We were given these orders and then 48 hours later we were shut down. We were told to take two days off and then report back to our units."
He said there was something "sinister" about the new orders.
"It is clear we were doing our job just a little too well. We were about to carry out several raids, which were going to net the kingpins, including police officers.
"We had good successes. In three weeks, we arrested 38 suspects, recovered 34 hijacked cars, five firearms, R200000 in cash, R200000 worth of drugs and killed two suspects," he said.
"It is clear someone is looking out for the wrong people's interests."
Petros said ''Nothing has been disbanded . [Task teams] depend on crime trends and we deploy our members accordingly and where our strategies dictate.
''I am comfortable with the progress made in this investigation and any movement of members is part of a new strategy and change of tactics.''
Police spokesman Colonel Noxolo Kweza said he would respond to questions today.
But the team members believe they were "too successful".
"We were hurting these thugs. The only way they could stop us was to shut us down. Our success has been our downfall, " said the Pretoria officer.