With millions of visitors on the way, police are preparing for anything that soccer fans can throw at them.

From inviting foreign police to help contain their own football hooligans to equipping riot police with body armour to keep violent mobs at bay, South African police are pulling out the stops to train thousands of officers for the influx of more than 450000 fans expected to attend the soccer showpiece in June and July 2010.

Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft fitted with hi-tech surveillance equipment will circle stadiums, while dozens of armoured police vehicles will patrol all the venues and surrounding areas.

The police are also undergoing intensive training courses between now and 2010 in everything from advanced intelligence-gathering techniques to counterterrorism.

Senior Superintendent Faizel Ally, section head for operational and tactical training in Pretoria, confirmed that all qualifying nations will be invited to send police officers to South Africa to help deal with their country’s unruly fans.

“They will assist us to identify possible troublemakers from their countries as well as negotiate if there are any incidents,” Ally said.

In preparation for violent soccer hooligans — especially from the UK, Italy, France and Holland — at least 8000 public-order police unit officers will be fitted with specially imported body armour over their uniforms while on duty during the 64 matches at 10 stadiums.

The polycarbon armoured suits, imported from France, will be used in conjunction with helmets, shields and batons. They will protect policemen from injury from flying bottles and cans, as well as weapons such as knives and sticks.

Some officers are already using the protective gear during training exercises to become familiar with it.

“It’s like an exoskeleton. It fits onto the uniform, making you look like RoboCop,” Ally said.

Commissioner Gary Kruser of the police’s training division, whose department has a R471-million budget, said several other plans were geared towards 2010. These included the construction of four ultramodern shooting ranges — two in KwaZulu-Natal and one each in Gauteng and the Western Cape.

“We want to ensure that our people can shoot more regularly because most of the ranges we hire are not up to standard,” he said.

“The 2010 World Cup is one target but there’s also a broader target of ensuring that we bring down crime in the country.”

Kruser said a sophisticated shooting range earmarked for Gauteng was expected to cost about R30-million. “We are trying to equip people better in terms of their fitness, their shooting and their ability to respond quickly to violent crime,” he said, adding that some of the courses had already made a difference in the way policemen were conducting investigations.

A senior police officer, who declined to be identified, said getting policemen to regularly practise their shooting was vital because some had never used their firearms throughout their entire police career. “Police officers need to be skilled in the use of firearms so that when they are confronted with a situation they can protect themselves and the lives of innocent people,” he said.

Kruser’s division has also introduced several new courses for the country’s 21000 detectives to hone their skills for 2010. These include:

  • A nine-week human intelligence trade craft course for crime intelligence officers to help them infiltrate syndicates and gather information more efficiently. At least 75 officers have attended the course, jointly designed by SAPS, the National Intelligence Agency and Military Intelligence;
  • A three-week hostage negotiation course to help officers negotiate better with hostage takers and those who attempt suicide;
  • An intensive four-day tactical survival techniques course for officers who respond to high-risk crimes such as armed robberies ;
  • A religious extremism course to help police infiltrate religious organisations that are deemed to pose threats to law and order; and
  • A counterterrorism course to help police investigate terrorism threats.

Fifa spokesman Delia Fischer confirmed it had received SAPS’s 2010 safety and security plan. “We are very confident that the authorities are doing their utmost to make it a safe and secure World Cup.”

Johan Burger, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, was confident that police would provide top security for 2010.

The turnaround strategy
Since January, the South African Police Service went all out to jack up the skills level of the country’s policemen.

  • 74084 officers from the detectives, crime intelligence, dog unit, specialised task force, highway patrol, flying squad and national intervention departments have done operational training courses;
  • 11401 officers received support training in statement taking, logistics, administration, financial planning and forensics;
  • 1605 senior officers, including station commissioners and branch commanders, had management and leadership training;
  • 10537 volunteer police reservists were trained; and
  • At least 11360 police recruits are expected to complete their basic training by the end of the year. — Prega Govender

SAPS to deploy water cannons
South African police have ordered 10 sophisticated water cannons that can take video footage of suspects being tear gassed — just in case they are confronted by violent mobs during the 2010 World Cup.

The Israeli-manufactured anti-riot water cannons, which are mounted on vehicles resembling fire engines, will be officially handed over to police management next week.

Fifty public order police officers are now being taught to use them at a police training centre in Benoni, east of Johannesburg.

A unique feature of the cannons is that they come fitted with sophisticated video cameras that can record the behaviour of unruly fans for use as evidence in court.

Senior Superintendent Faizel Ally, section head for operational and tactical training in Pretoria, said this would also help identify the hooligans.

Ally said a purple dye would be added to water in the cannons to stain the skin of people hit by the spray for up to two weeks, making it easier to track rioters.

The cannons, which can shoot jets of water at high speeds over several hundred metres, can also be used to spray tear gas to disperse uncontrollable mobs.

They will be deployed during next year’s Fifa Confederations Cup in preparation for the big event. Ally could not reveal how much police had paid for the 10 cannons.

One of the cannons will be among the exhibits on display tomorrow at the Soccerex exhibition, which will be held at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg. — Prega Govender

PUBLICATION: The Times
AUTHOR: Prega Govender
DATED: 23rd November 2008