The Beast – a smart new roadblock vehicle – has been let loose on Johannesburg roads.

The R2,2-million roadblock vehicle sponsored by Traffic Management Technologies (TMT) was officially launched by the Johannesburg metro police department (JMPD) in Kliprivier Drive on Friday.

Dressed in the blue and orange colours of the JMPD and equipped with all the latest technology in one vehicle, it will speed-up traffic law enforcement at roadblocks even further.

Motorists in the habit of breaking the law should start feeling uneasy, said Gerrie Gernecke, the JMPD director for licensing, courts and prosecution before the launch, held on 17 October. “There is not a shadow of a doubt, the noose is tightening.

“As the City, what we are trying to achieve is to get the public away from this culture of impunity,” he added.

An elated chief of police, Chris Ngcobo, said the department – lead by Thomas Phakati, the portfolio head of public safety – was one step closer to its dream of changing the face of policing in the city. “We are taking electronic law enforcement forward. This is a win-win situation for us, for the public and for our private partners.”

TMT’s chief executive officer, Douglas Davey, agreed. “Ultimately this is about service delivery. It is a community policing tool, showing visible policing.”

The general public would begin to recognise the positive effect these smart roadblocks would have on the community.

The JMPD was the only metro police department keen to take up this law enforcement concept when Business Against Crime South Africa first approached various players, said Lurinda Nel, a project manager for the section 21 company.

“Legislation is only as strong as crime prevention. This is enforcement at its best.”

Five a day
There are now five “smart” roadblocks, operating six days a week in Johannesburg. They are manned by 30 JMPD officers and technicians from three private companies, TMT, Syntell and MVS, the suppliers of the high-tech roadblock equipment.

On Sundays roadblocks are reduced to four so that one group can rest.

While the new vehicle has all its equipment and technology under one roof, the other four smart roadblocks have various vehicles fulfilling different functions on site. As a result, the whole process becomes slightly more involved and requires a larger site.

The back of the new vehicle holds a computer server room and camera tracking equipment, which scans individual vehicle registrations. Next to the server room are cubicles for a cashier and a clerk of the court to serve section 54 notices, or subpoenas.

In the front of the truck an office is manned by two officers with laptops. The computer shows the details of a vehicle’s registration, the owner of the vehicle and a list of the outstanding notices or offences.

Vehicle registration numbers are scanned through JMPD, South African Police Service and eNatis databases.

“We are the only enforcement unit outside the SAPS that has live access to the stolen vehicle database,” said Gernecke. This means that not only outstanding fines were picked up, but also false number plates, stolen vehicles or unregistered cars.

“Our biggest success story is the stagnated cases. This is going to change the whole picture.”

In the past, notices with untraceable addresses and stagnated cases were lost to the JMPD.

The Beast gets to work
Within minutes of the Beast getting to work about 20 cars had been pulled off the road. Shocked motorists were surprised by the number of infringements they had against their names; others looked with uneasy respect at JMPD’s new toy.

Persons with warrants of arrest against them have to pay then and there or they face imprisonment.

In cases where the clerk of the court is unable to serve the summons because of incorrect address details, a section 54 notice is printed on the spot and served on the person. At the same time, the person’s details are updated on the database.

But, despite the long arm of the law getting longer, a lot of car registrations still fall through the cracks.

“Our stats show that we miss too many cars,” said Gernecke. About 25 percent of cars were not stopped because there were too few officers and too many infringements with which to deal.

“It shows the degree of non-compliance.”

But, with the smarter roadblocks now a common sight on roads, Gernecke expects that compliance rates for motorists will start to increase.

Already they have had an impressive effect on the finalisation rate of the JMPD’s traffic cases, which has increased from 31 percent in 2007 to between 48 and 51 percent this year.

Impact studies done by the JMPD showed there was a direct correlation between traffic compliance and reductions in accidents, he added. “Everyday we are getting a little bit smarter.”