SAPS Port Elizabeth

I worked with the Port Elizabeth Dog Unit as a photojournalist for 8 months. I partnered several officers and their dogs in their patrol vehicles – this involved wearing a bulletproof vest, racing to ‘crimes in progress’ at high-speed, attending crime scenes, chasing after suspects and witnessing several arrests.

The Dog Unit with the Flying Squad and the Tactical Response Team work on priority crimes such as armed robberies; cash in transit heists, hijackings, house robberies or any other serious crime that requires an immediate and armed response time.

The policemen work 12-hour shifts, 4 days on (2 day shifts and 2 night shifts) and 4 days off.

The experience can best be described as a physical and emotional roller coaster. One minute you might be all relaxed cruising at patrolling speed and the next you’re traveling at 180km/h and weaving through traffic, with adrenaline levels rocketing through the roof.

As the majority of these calls involve crimes still in progress and lives at stake, the officers try to respond to any address in Port Elizabeth within 5 minutes. This is a difficult part of the job, as they need to get to the crimes scene fast; safely; not endangering the public as they drive at speed and then be ready to deal with a situation where they might be shot at or have to shoot. In my opinion, most of the public find these speeding police vehicles hazardous. When the police drive like this you must know that it is because there are lives in real danger at that moment. In the process officers also put their lives, that of their crew and dog at stake. For example – one afternoon I was with a car patrolling in Summerstrand when a call came in to respond to a house robbery in progress in Lorraine. Armed robbers surprised a young girl in the house but she managed to flee to her room and raise the alarm. We managed to reach Lorraine in 8 minutes after a hair-raising drive through the traffic on the N2. As the police entered the premises the robbers fled through the back door but the child was safe.

I found the officers highly trained, professional and truly dedicated to their jobs – to safeguard us and to catch the criminals.

I have had some wonderful experiences, made dear friends and taken some awesome award-winning pictures. I intend to continue my work with the PE Dog Unit.

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About the Author

Riaan Labuschagne

Riaan specialises in photojournalism and documentary photography as well as documenting corporate projects and industrial developments in Africa for progress and annual reports. “I love photographing people in their environment”.