KUALA LUMPUR: Mat rempit and samseng jalanan — these are among the names coined by Malaysians for the gangs of motorcyclists who terrorise the highways, usually on weekends, with their death-defying stunts and illegal races nationwide.
The speed demons' penchant for crowding the highways, swarming past regular vehicles as they lie prone on the seats as part of their now infamous 'Superman' stunt, has been the bane of motorists for decades.
However, the police have not been taking this lying down. Enter Skuad 42 — the city traffic police's elite unit, which zeroes in on the activities of the biker gangs.
Kuala Lumpur's mat rempit problem began in the 1990s, when numerous streets in the city would be transformed into illegal racing circuits by night, with packs of racers dominating the streets.
The racers, striding their modified bikes, would more often than not evade police arrest, thanks to their sheer numbers.
The problem led to the city traffic police in the 1990s forming an ad hoc team of traffic cops deployed to track down and arrest the racers.
This eventually evolved into a more structured team, with members — identified for their skills and abilities to handle the racers — drafted into the squad from 2004 onwards.
Skuad 42 was later officially formed when the police's Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department was established in 2016.
From being formed initially to tackle rampant illegal racing, the squad has now become the traffic police operations intelligence unit.
The elite team now covers other motorcycle-related offences, including fake motorcycle licence plates, road bullying, as well as hit-and-run cases.
Often times, the members also go undercover to infiltrate the gangs to unearth possible crimes. They would pose as fellow racers and alert the team on the routes the racers would take for subsequent action.
City Traffic Enforcement and Investigation Department chief Assistant Commissioner Sarifudin Mohd Salleh said the team's name, Skuad 42, originated from Section 42 of the Road Transport Act 1987, which details the charges for reckless and dangerous driving.
"When it first started, city traffic police rounded up capable traffic cops to tackle illegal races, which were code named '42'.
"These traffic cops immediately understood what the mission was. The 'Skuad 42' name was later adopted when the team was formally established and members selected," he told the New Sunday Times.
Sarifudin is, however, unable to divulge the identities of Skuad 42's members as well as its manpower due to the need for secrecy.
He said this was necessary as the team usually comprised young traffic policemen, who had to blend in with the racers and not raise any suspicion.
The unit's members, he said, were trained to develop an understanding of the racers' behaviour as well as their racing patterns.
Sarifudin said the duties of Skuad 42 members went beyond patrolling and catching the mat rempit in the act.
The squad, he said, also assisted investigators in locating traffic offenders to enable them to be prosecuted in court.
"Normally in plainclothes, these men are always on the ground gathering intel and acting as eyes and ears of the department, as well as the police force."
Skuad 42 members, he said, also gathered evidence such as pictures and videos during operations, as well as prepared reports for the purpose of investigation.
As with any policeman, they have the authority to enforce the law under the Police Act 1967, Road Transport Act and Road Traffic Rules 1959.
Sarifudin said the presence of Skuad 42 had begun to have an impact on reducing street races in Kuala Lumpur, describing the problem as now being "under control".
A total of 144 arrests under Section 42(1) of the Road Transport Act 1987 were made between January and April in Kuala Lumpur, compared to 118 in the same period last year.
He said while repeat offenders were still there, they made up only a small percentage of the overall annual arrests.