10th of police cannot shoot

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More than 27 000 police officers on active duty have failed the firearms proficiency test – making them a danger to their colleagues and the public. This is according to a draft performance audit report by the SAPS internal audit unit dated December 14 2011.

The audit was conducted to assess the quality of training provided to police officers. Yet, despite this, many still carry official service weapons, the Sunday Times reported yesterday. According to the report, 27 329 (or 17%) of the 157 704 police officers who underwent training to comply with the regulations of the Firearms Control Act, which took effect in 2004, failed firearms proficiency tests. A further 55 429 members still have to be trained in accordance with the new legislation.

There are 213 133 operational members, including 59 955 active reservists, in the SAPS [South African Police Service]. The firearms test which the policemen failed is similar to that which ordinary citizens have to pass in order to obtain a firearm licence.

Acting national police chief Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi appeared taken aback by the report Saturday, saying it would be unfair to comment on something he had not seen or heard of.

He said detailed questions should be submitted to his communications department. But the department has refused to provide detailed comment to questions submitted two weeks ago. “If there’s that number not competent, then, in terms of the law, they can’t carry weapons,” Mkhwanazi said. Mkhwanazi admitted that not all police officers had undergone firearms training in compliance with the new act.

Asked what action would be taken against those who were carrying firearms although they were declared not competent, he said: “I would charge the commander. I would want to know from the provincial commissioner why he [the member] was allowed to carry a firearm.” Findings in the 40-page report, based on an audit on training in the police force, included:
– A total of 7578 of the 16 123 operational members in the Eastern Cape have not yet been trained; and,
– 448 of the 1019 police members who failed firearms proficiency tests in the Western Cape were declared “untrainable” because of medical reasons or as a result of being declared unfit to possess a firearm. The definition “untrainable”, a policeman told the Sunday Times, is also used for those who cannot even pick up a rifle or continually fail to hit a target during shooting practice.

The Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (SASSETA) – the body tasked with issuing “learner achievement” certificates to members of the SAPS who pass proficiency tests – confirmed that only 3570 certificates were awarded since 2010. The revelations come in the wake of the fatal shooting of Soweto teenager Thato Mokoka on February 14, allegedly by student constable Sipho Mbatha. It has since come to light that Mbatha had been declared unstable and unfit to carry a firearm. Mbatha is in police custody and will appear in court again on March 16. He allegedly had his R5 rifle in full automatic mode when shots were discharged, hitting Mokoka three times, the Sunday Times reported.

The audit report stated that one of the effects of having members who were “not yet competent” in handling weapons was that “they are placed on operational duties with a firearm they cannot use properly”. “This fact is a very high risk for the lives of fellow colleagues, as well as members of the community.” It added: “The fact that members cannot utilise their firearms with confidence could lead to an increase in police killings.”

The majority of those who failed the tests, according to the report, were operational members “who were supposed to carry their official firearms on a daily basis”. The audit team said despite “ample legislation” indicating what was expected of the police’s top management, “there are still no proper policies and procedures in place regarding the competency issue of Police Act members [those on operational duty].”

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s spokesman, Zweli Mnisi, would not comment, as he said the issues were of an “operational nature”.

The opposition Democratic Alliance’s Dianne Kohler Barnard says those who have failed the firearms proficiency test, pose “a clear and present danger to the citizens they are mandated to protect.” The DA shadow minister of police adds “SAPS members should not be endangering the lives of others and adding to the problem by carrying guns when they are clearly not fit to do so.”



She would like both Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa and Acting National Police Commissioner Mkhwanazi to account to Parliament and outline the action they will be taking “to ensure that the SAPS does not violate its own constitutional responsibility to protect and secure South Africa citizens.”