/ 29 January 2010

Police ‘snub’ offer of sniffer dogs for Cup

Arms parastatal Denel says it is concerned about the South African Police Service’s ability to counter the threat of explosives and drug trafficking during the Fifa World Cup after its offer of a detection system met with a lukewarm reception from the SAPS.

Allister Gibbons, a police veteran and head of the dog unit at Mechem, a Denel subsidiary, said his unit had offered the police a dog-driven system for detecting explosives and contraband, “but had no response, except [from] Mpumalanga”.

Gibbons said the system was used by the South African Air Force to sweep President Jacob Zuma’s plane. His unit also trained two dogs for the army in 2001. The Explosives and Drugs Detection System (EDDS) uses “remote odour-detection technology”, where trained dogs sniff an air sample vacuumed from vehicles or luggage at ports of entry, or during security sweeps.

Mechem dog behaviourist Hannes Slabbert said studies had shown that no other detection system “came close” to trained dogs. Mechem had 12 dogs “on the shelf” for potential use at the World Cup, he said.

The Mail & Guardian has been reliably told that South Africa has a serious shortage of trained dogs and handlers. A source said the police had struggled for years to acquire dogs suitable for training in bomb and drug detection, and had toppled from its one-time position as world leader in canine training.

“KwaZulu-Natal [police] had about 280 dogs in 1994 or 1995, and now only has five dogs trained to detect explosives and drugs,” said the source, who revealed that it takes up to 20 dogs to sweep a stadium before a match. This did not take into account the dogs needed for other sweeps and activities such as crowd control.

Police did not respond to M&G questions about how they intended addressing the drugs and explosives threat during the tournament, and the availability of trained dogs.