Huddled tightly together behind shields with specialised body armour a squad of police officers waits for the order to charge.

The targets, a group of soccer hooligans armed with petrol bombs, rocks and baseball bats.

Holding their breath they wait and watch, their squad commander carefully identifying the ringleaders.

“Wait, wait, now!” screams the commander and the group moves forward, through a burning barricade and teargas, slamming their shields against their targets.

Attempts by the hooligans, who are police officers simulating a rush into a sports stadium hosting a 2010 Soccer World cup match, to break through the line prove fruitless.

As blows are exchanged demonstrators are beaten to the ground and arrested.

This is the precise scenario that thousands of police officers are to be trained for within the next year.

For nearly two months 120 SAPS trainers have been trained by their French counterparts in the latest crowd management techniques.

The SAPS trainees will now be tasked with training 9 000 of their colleagues in newly acquired skills ahead of next year’s Confederations Cup, which is being hosted in South Africa as a dress rehearsal for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

For the Confederations Cup 800 specialised crowd management officers will be deployed to the 10 host cities while a 1 000 will eventually be deployed for the 2010 competition.

The 9 000 will form the core of the estimated 41 000 police officers assigned to control crowds during the 2010 soccer tournament.

Officers will be taught new techniques in how to handle large sports crowds and will be able to adapt their skills to better handle other riots and protests.

The training forms part of a larger skills exchange programme between the two countries for among other things preparation for the 2010 Soccer World Cup and the combating of transnational crimes with the focus on terrorism.

Senior Superintendent Faizel Ally, head of SAPS’ operational and tactical training component, said as well as receiving crowd management training, the police had also been supplied with specialised body armour.

Weighing less than 5kg, the armour offers protection to the wearer’s legs, arms and shoulders and can withstand blunt object force while also offering protection against knife attacks.

Confirming that the SAPS was researching similar ballistic armour, Ally said that within the next month they would be receiving chest armour as well.

“The armour is unique in that it gives the wearers free movement, allowing them to carry out their duties while still offering the necessary protection.

“An officer wearing this armour will be armed with teargas, gas mask, shield and a baton and, depending on the situation, may also carry a firearm,” said Ally.

As well as the new armour the police are also expected to receive specialised helmets and new flexi shields.

Ally said the new armour allowed officers to respond to low, medium and high risk situations.

He said by next year 2 400 officers would have undergone the new training with 9 000 having received training by 2010.

“This means that by 2010 we will have nearly 1 000 officers deployed at each host city to deal with crowd management,” he said.

French police attache Laurent Cozanet said that while the main focus of the latest training was on crowd management other sections of the training was focusing on crime intelligence, forensics, sea border policing and control and special forces intervention.

He said the training came as South Africa and France prepared to sign a training agreement for the next three years which would lead to capacity building.

French Ambassador Denis Pietton said the influx of the expected 450 000 soccer fans to South Africa would pose a major challenge.

“With this and other training South Africa will be able to meet that challenge successfully,” he said, adding that the latest training was the beginning of long beneficial training exchange process between the two countries.

He said the training could be used not only for sporting events, but also in peacekeeping missions where policing was vital and where South Africa played an important role.

PUBLICATION: (Pretoria News) (Page 4)
DATED: 3rd November 2008