'There's no task team'
GAUTENG police commissioner Lieutenant-General Mzwandile Petros yesterday dismissed allegations of the existence and subsequent closure of a special task team dealing with blue-light robberies.
"There is no task team. I categorically deny the existence and use of uniformed members in a task team," Petros said during a meeting at The Times offices yesterday.
"No flying squad or dog unit members can be used in such [a] thing. They have no investigating powers, no powers to gather information, no power to have informers."
Petros's comments come days after The Times reported that 40 flying squad members - deployed to combat blue-light hijackings in Gauteng - were instructed to return to their units.
The 40 were formed into a group by Major-General Phumzo Gela last month to deal with the increase in blue-light robberies targeting Gauteng motorists.
It is alleged that these attacks have been carried out with the help of police officers who either provided policing equipment to criminals or assisted them in carrying out the attacks.
Petros said that, while no 40-member task team existed, "there is a unit of 100 dedicated detectives", including intelligence officers, to deal with priority crimes. These included blue-light robberies.
Sources within various provincial flying squad and dog units, however, dismissed Petros's claims.
Seven members from the Johannesburg, Soshanguve and Pretoria dog units and the Johannesburg and Pretoria flying squads confirming their deployments.
"Last Monday, we were told we had two months to work on this, then on Tuesday we were told our services were no longer required," said a member from the Pretoria Flying Squad.
"We had been working for three weeks in fighting blue-light hijackings. That was our mandate. We were working on Tuesday following up information on a possible blue-light robbery when we were instructed to report to the Midrand 10111 centre," he said.
"When we arrived commanders said they had been informed we were no longer required. This is despite the success we have had."
Petros dismissed the article as "devoid of any truth".
In a 702 interview yesterday morning, Petros said: "There has never been a task team. We have been doing more patrols ... deploying more vehicles. We did not assign any tasks to the dog units and flying squads."
Petros told 702's talk show host John Robbie he was "not sure whether the journalist is being fed information by policemen".
"If so it will be very unfortunate. I asked the journalist not to publish that information."
Petros said the article had harmed the fight against crime, caused panic, made the police look bad, while creating paranoia among those who have been victims of crime.
"When I came in Gauteng there were too many task teams - 22 focusing on crimes in the province. It created loss of dockets and institution memory. They were disbanded," he said.
"Now we have a team, not a task team - a unit dealing with that. A unit that has proved itself."
At The Times meeting, asked about the structure of the flying squad and dog unit team as outlined by sources, Petros said: "I do not want to get involved in this. I cannot be running around confirming information which is factually incorrect.
"I do not have time ... What I can say is that members are deployed where crime trends dictate they be deployed."
Asked if the sources had lied to The Times, Petros said he did not know. But he said he hoped that black officers were among the sources quoted in Tuesday's article. He seemed to suggest white officers were reluctant to take orders from black commanders.
Yet, in seeming contradiction - in an article carried in The Star on May 17 - Petros's deputy Gela said at a news conference that a centralised task team had been set up to combat blue-light hijackings.
"Five of the cases had been centralised and a task team had been put together to deal with them," he said.
Asked why the flying squad and dog units were involved and operating in a "task team", Petros said they could be deployed anywhere in the province.
"They are provincial unit - a team. They are deployed to where they are deployed, to do exactly what they are required to do and that is intercept the criminals who commit crimes such as blue-light robberies," he said.
"There is a misunderstanding - that is what this is all about."
See Editorial, Page 14