Police officers will now be fired for losing their firearms. The South African Police Service has announced a no-nonsense policy regarding lost or stolen firearms, in response to a dramatic rise in the number of weapons going missing. Overall, more than 13 500 firearms have been stolen from the police or lost by them over the last five years.
Mthethwa said in a statement yesterday that if a police officer lost a firearm this amounted to negligence and the officer would therefore be incompetent and unfit to carry out his or her duties. “The obvious thing would be to relieve them of their duties,” Mthethwa said. He made the comment yesterday in response to a question in Parliament.
The number of lost or stolen firearms has been on the rise for the last three years, Mthethwa added. In the last financial year (April 2009 to 2010), the South African Police Service (SAPS) lost 3453 guns but recovered 1210. In 2008/2009, 2759 weapons were lost or stolen – only 290 were recovered. In 2007, 1923 firearms disappeared. This marks an increase of roughly 240% in the number of lost or stolen weapons since 2001, police records show.
Certain provinces have experience much higher losses than others, such as KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga. In June, Mthethwa’s Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow, Dianne Kohler Barnard, said that KwaZulu-Natal police lost 840 weapons in 2009/2010, which worked out to five firearms per station. In one incident alone 98 weapons were stolen from the Inanda police station. The station commander was afterwards removed and the exhibit clerk sentenced to 20 years in prison for the thefts. The Eastern Cape is also badly affected, with 1708 firearms lost or stolen in the last two years, which amounts to one gun for every ten officers, Kohler Barnard said. The national average amounted to three firearms lost or stolen from each station in the country.
In comparison, civilians lost 8498 weapons and police recovered 3985 during the 2009/2010 period. In response, Mthethwa urged the public to take care of its firearms. “Much as we shall be tough on our members, we shall also be hard on any member of the public who loses his or her firearm.”
Even though there has been a high rate of recovery for lost or stolen civilian firearms – roughly two thirds of civilian firearms are recovered – the recovery rate for lost or stolen police firearms stands at 7%. Only 233 police firearms were recovered in 2009/2010, National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele reported in October.
As part of an effort to ensure tighter control of guns in South Africa, the police is rolling out its Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS), which will hold police officers accountable for the guns assigned to them, Mthethwa added yesterday.
Mismanagement of firearms has long been a contentious issue. The police minister made similar comments in June. “We are serious about ensuring that police officers take greater responsibility for their firearms,” he said at the time. “While we are beginning to see a steady progress in the recovery of the lost firearms, we are still not entirely satisfied. Until we come to a zero ratio in firearms lost in the hands of police, we shall continue to tighten the screws and accordingly ensure harsher punishments to those found guilty.”
In October the DA criticised the police for not accounting for all their firearms and called for Auditor General Terence Nombembe to investigate the way the police manages its firearms. “This problem seems to only be increasing and places the lives of ordinary South Africans at risk by adding to the number of weapons in circulation on our streets,” said Kohler Barnard. She added that the current system was not working and needed to be overhauled.
The police in December last year ordered about 4000 pistols, taking orders in the last four years to some 35 000. The order for Beretta Px4F “Storm” 9mm pistols was placed on Republic Arms (Pty) Ltd of Jeppestown by way of the state arms agency, Armscor, on December 10. The cost of the weapons, to be imported from Italy is R15 811 200.
The police have been engaged in a massive recruiting drive in recent years and currently muster some 151 000 police officers and 39 000 staff, for a total complement of 190 000. Current plans call for the national police to be increased to some 210 000. Nearly all police officers are issued with a service pistol.
The pistol will compliment the Vektor Z88 pistols of which Denel manufactured 120 000 in the years up to 1996. The Z88 was a clone of the Beretta 92F. The Z88 has reportedly served the police well but law enforcers are now having trouble maintaining the weapon as spares are no longer available.
The police reportedly chose the Px4 composite pistol because its polymer body is lighter than the Z88’s metal frame and because the weapons is fitted with Picatinny rails that can take a variety of accessories as standard. Accessories include laser sighting aids as well as flashlights.
The wikipedia notes the Px4 was first produced in 2004. It notes the semi-automatic uses the same short-recoil, rotating barrel lock as the Beretta 8000 Models as well as “exactly the same operating system as the M9/92/96 series, while being completely different in design from either.”