A day in the life of an armed response officer

            A day in the life of an armed response officer

 When I met armed response officers and dog handlers Jacques van Nieuwholtz and Alfred Rananga, who work with Helderberg Crime Watch, they seemed like an odd couple, being exact opposites in appearance.  As I got to know their stories, I learned that Jacques, actively involved in the training of new recruits, was known as Bôggom - a nickname he’d carried since childhood and which currently relates to his ability to ‘scale walls like a baboon.’  Alfred was paired with a gentle canine, because of his gentle nature around dogs, and this is how the dog handlers are paired off – their personalities matched with those of their dogs, as there has to be a very strong bonding. Indeed, bonding is ‘the heart of the company,’ and officers’ families are also included in the circle.  Training is of the most rigorous and of world standard, tempered by Jacques’ warm sense of humour and ability to laugh at himself.

 I joined Jacques with his clipboard for the detailed weekly inspection of the armed response vehicles. The shift senior Johan Stander was also there, doing the usual early morning inspection of the day patrol team which had just come on duty to take over from the night shift. Twelve hour shifts are the norm, with two days on and two days off.  Vehicles are not only to be kept in tip top shape, but the dog travelling area in the back is to be disinfected on a daily basis before collecting the dogs.

 My detailed inquisition elicited the information that the travelling spaces were small with the dogs’ safety in mind.  They act as ‘safety belts’. Too large a space could lead to the dogs being thrown from side to side when the vehicle gives chase, thus leading to possible injuries. I noticed the presence of dog bowls and water in the car boots, among other essential paraphernalia.

 I also took note of the high level of discipline. New recruits for armed response dog handler positions not only have to pass strict selection criteria but also go through a structured training course.  Dog handlers are trained from DH1 to DH 6 level.  The first three levels are about basic dog care and how to use the dog’s senses, all necessary steps towards the main goal of permanent employment after the initial six months’ probation period.  But the training includes much more – fitness training, target shooting practice, simulated defence and hostage situations as well as spoor tracking.  Although they have no powers of arrest, but just hold suspects until the police arrive, they are prepared for anything.

 Bôggom arranged for me to join Johan and his Woof partner Samson for a few hours during their pro-active patrolling of the streets.  After being thoroughly sniffed over by Samson and my apparently passing muster, he hopped into his travelling area, while allowing me to join Johan in the front of the patrol vehicle. Samson’s initial toothy smile and wide awake interest in what was happening on the streets gave way to a yawn and he lay down for a snooze.  A dog never knows when he might need that extra spurt of energy in pursuit of his duties.

There are frequent pit stops, at least every two hours, for the Woofs to have a run and a drink of water. It soon became apparent that the around-the-clock radio system, linked to the control room and able to alert the police and neighbourhood watches at the push of a button, was the pulse of this venture. Reports of persons acting suspiciously were broadcast and the nearest patrol cars would investigate. Everybody was on standby in case of a break-in at premises.  A three minute response time has been recorded.

 There are many stories of crime being prevented by this pro-active stance. Although their primary responsibility is attending to break-ins at premises, they do help members of the organisation where they can. On one occasion a member phoned radio control most apologetically - their car had rolled down their driveway, across the road and onto the verge on the other side.  As it had been raining, the wheels were spinning and they could not get the car off the verge and back up the driveway. Within minutes the armed response vehicle was there to sort out the problem.  This was followed up by a call from the call centre to see if the member had been helped.

 Working together with the SAPS and neighbourhood watches, pro-active patrolling plays an essential pre-emptive role in ensuring safer streets for all the residents and has without doubt contributed to the drop in crime.
 For Bôggom, Alfred and Samson it’s all just in a day’s work. A day in the life of an armed response officer. 

Beatrice Wiltshire

A day in the life of an armed response officer Alfred Rananga makes a fuss of the patrol woofs