Ghost rid­ers in the fast lane are re­ally traf­fic busters

There is zero tol­er­ance of vi­o­la­tions of the rules of the road, re­ports LEILA SAMODIEN. MXOLISI MADELA took the pic­tures

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

IF YOU thought you were safe from the au­thor­i­ties when tak­ing a quick cell­phone call be­hind the wheel, or jump­ing a red light, you thought wrong. The days when you could glance into your rear view mir­ror in case a traf­fic cop was lurk­ing nearby, and then hit the petrol, are no more. The “Ghost Squad” won’t have it any other way.

Sure, drag rac­ers, drunk driv­ers and reck­less road users are a high pri­or­ity, but the squad says no­body’s “safe”.

“No­body’s above the law,” says Ghost Squad head Lance Crow­ster. “Who­ever trans­gresses will be dealt with.”

And mercy is not a word in th­ese guys’ vo­cab­u­lary ei­ther. The 12 mem­bers each dish out 20 or more fines a day. On a quiet week, they make a half dozen ar­rests.

“We have a zero tol­er­ance ap­proach to­wards law en­force­ment,” says Crow­ster. “If there’s an of­fence, a penalty will be en­forced.”

But he didn’t let us take his word for it. It’s Tues­day morn­ing, nearly 10.30am, and a Week­end Ar­gus team is driv­ing along the N2 with the Ghost Squad.

There has been spec­u­la­tion – in chain emails, on Face­book and around din­ner ta­bles – about what the squad drive. Here’s what’s true: there are four white Golf GTIs, a white turbo-charged As­tra, and six 1300cc Honda mo­tor­cy­cles in var­i­ous colours. All are un­marked.

But Crow­ster says it would be point­less for peo­ple to use th­ese de­scrip­tions in try­ing to avoid them. Next month, the squad is set to get a num­ber of ad­di­tional cars and mo­tor­cy­cles. The ve­hi­cle makes will not be the same, and this time they won’t stick to tra­di­tional white when pick­ing out colours.

Each car is fit­ted with blue lights – two small lights hid­den be­neath the front grille and an­other two in the back win­dow.

There’s even a ve­hi­cle, owned by the traf­fic depart­ment but some­times used in spe­cial Ghost Squad op­er­a­tions, that is fit­ted with a cam­era ready to cap­ture footage of high-speed chases and cheeky of­fend­ers.

To­day, though, the squad goes out for a rou­tine pa­trol. They take out all five cars and four mo­tor­bikes.

At first, they’re a dead give­away; a row of sim­i­lar white cars cruis­ing down the high­way. But then they be­gin to break up, each one on a mis­sion to spot traf­fic vi­o­la­tions.

The first to be pulled over is the driver of a black Toy­ota Yaris for talk­ing on his cell­phone while driv­ing.

The of­fi­cer puts on his lights, pulls up to the Yaris in the next lane and a siren blares from some­where in the squad car.

The driver, a man who looks to be in his 40s, is con­fused at first, his eyes wide. Then, when the re­al­i­sa­tion hits him, he pulls over to the side of the N2.

When the of­fi­cer gets out of his su­per-fast car, there’s no mis­tak­ing who he is. He’s wear­ing the uni­form of an or­di­nary traf­fic cop – a stan­dard pro­ce­dure for ev­ery Ghost Squad mem­ber, and an as­sur­ance for road users that they’re ac­tu­ally law en­force­ment of­fi­cers.

The driver cracks a quick smile, amaze­ment, as the of­fi­cer walks over. There’s no know­ing what’s go­ing through the driver’s mind, but it’s surely some­where along the lines of: “Where on earth did he come from?”

The driver is fined, the squad moves on, and in a mat­ter of a cou­ple of min­utes, an­other of­fender is caught out.

This time, it’s a man, seem­ingly in his 20s, driv­ing a souped-up Honda. His sus­pen­sion is too low, ren­der­ing it il­le­gal, and he has blue lights fit­ted in the front of his car, next to the head­lights.

A hand­ful of Ghost Squad of­fi­cers get busy check­ing his sus­pen­sion, in­spect­ing the rest of the car and writ­ing out tick­ets.

He doesn’t get off as easy as the Yaris driver – his car is sus­pended for sev­eral weeks, giv­ing him time to ad­just the lights and sus­pen­sion.

Next to be stopped is an over­loaded taxi, then a car with no li­cence plate, then, fi­nally, a taxi with a dodgy front wheel and a bro­ken tow bar.

He mum­bles an ex­cuse to the Ghost Squad of­fi­cer, who pays lit­tle at­ten­tion as he in­spects the ve­hi­cle and writes fever­ishly on a fine slip.

“I al­ways tell peo­ple that if they can give me an ex­cuse I’ve never heard be­fore, I’ll let them off,” jokes Crow­ster. “That never hap­pens.”

Most week­ends the team car­ries out spe­cial op­er­a­tions, such as drunk driv­ing and drag race busts.

They are ex­pected to work all hours of the day and night, any day of the year, but Crow­ster says the team is made up of 12 ded­i­cated of­fi­cers who were “fear­less” in car­ry­ing out their du­ties.

Not only have they been hand picked for the Ghost Squad, they’ve also un­der­gone spe­cial train­ing, such as ad­vanced driv­ing lessons and ses­sions on how to han­dle their firearms.

One or two of them have even risked their lives in the line of duty be­fore join­ing the squad when it was launched in July.

“A few years ago,” says one squad mem­ber, “I came across a hi­jack­ing by mis­take and in­ter­vened.”

The of­fi­cer was shot in the arm, leav­ing a long scar across his fore­arm.

“It’s not that we think we’re bet­ter than any other traf­fic of­fi­cer,” says an­other squad mem­ber. “We just hope that our mind­set can be an in­spi­ra­tion to other of­fi­cers; that if they worked hard enough, they could also be part of the Ghost Squad.”

The squad’s suc­cess, Crow­ster says, is so tremendous that they’ve been get­ting death threats on so­cial net­work­ing web­site Face­book. This is one of the rea­sons they’ve de­clined to be named.

Still, the of­fi­cers have brushed aside the threats, say­ing they won’t al­low it af­fect their work.

To keep things go­ing dur­ing tougher times, they also share lighter-hearted mo­ments.

“The other day we stopped a guy who was cut­ting across the lanes on Van­guard,” an of­fi­cer says. “When we pulled him over, he was drunk, drunk; he couldn’t even see straight. He just looked at us through the win­dow, looked for­ward, revved his car and drove on – straight into a fence!”

This week­end, the squad is back on the road, this time looking out for drunk driv­ers.

“We’re not scared to take strict action against peo­ple or to ar­rest peo­ple when they’ve trans­gressed,” says Crow­ster. “We usu­ally ar­rest peo­ple for drunk driv­ing or for neg­li­gent and reck­less driv­ing.”

You’ve been warned.

QUICK AS LIGHT­NING: One of the Ghost Squad cars – a Golf GTI – flashes its con­cealed blue lights from be­hind the grille.

HIT­TING THE ROAD: The squad heads out on pa­trol.

NO EX­CUSES: A driver who was caught talk­ing on his cell­phone while driv­ing down the N2 is given a fine by a mem­ber of the City of Cape Town’s Ghost Squad.

REVVED UP: Mem­bers of the City of Cape Town’s Ghost Squad get ready to pa­trol the N2 on their pow­er­ful mo­tor­cy­cles.

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