Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa and his opposition Democratic Alliance shadow are in rare agreement regarding the high number of police firearms lost or stolen in recent years, a trend both have separately condemned.
Mthethwa has told Parliament that 2603 firearms were lost or stolen by the South African Police Service in the last year, taking to 13 438 the total over the last five years. Democratic Alliance police shadow minister Dianne Kohler Barnard says the outcome of this “is that police negligence is actively fuelling crime.” She says at the same time, the police service is spending enormous sums replacing firearms – “money that could be spent elsewhere in fighting crime. An example of this is the tender put out in January of this year to purchase 4000 new pistols at a cost of R16 million.”
The minister has also expressed his unhappiness “with the unacceptably high number of firearms that are lost in the hands of police officers.” In a statement his office notes that KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga have experienced unacceptably high losses. “He has accordingly called for tightened measures to ensuring greater accountability and responsibility over firearms in the hands of our police officers,” his spokesman Zweli Mnisi said.
Kohler Barnard said in her statement KZN police lost 353 firearms in the 2008/09 financial year. This mushroomed 138% to 840 in 2009/10. “This is equal to five firearms lost per station in the province in 2009/10,” she said. In the latest incident, 87 firearms were stolen from the Inanda police station just last week, “allegedly by those who worked at the police station.” In the Eastern Cape 1708 have been lost or stolen in the last two financial years “which, incredibly, amounts to one firearm lost for every 10 officers,” while in the Western Cape one firearm has been lost for every 276 officers – reportedly a 27% decline from the previous year. The national average was approximately three firearms lost or stolen from each station in the country.
Mthethwa say steps have alrady been taken to remedy the situation. “When this problem was detected in early February this year, the … police … immediately introduced an Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS) system. The implications of the IBIS approach are that officers need to account for each and every firearm allocated to them. If it goes missing, whether through negligence or ulterior motives, each officer will be held accountable.”
“As reported in February this year 275 firearms have been recovered for the 2009/2010 financial year. Comparatively a total of 290 firearms have been recovered during the 2008/2009 financial year,” said Mthethwa. “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. I have repeatedly stated that we are serious about ensuring that police officers take greater responsibility for their firearms. To this end I have asked the Civilian Secretariat for Police to monitor this matter and report to me as a matter of urgency.”
“In addition the recent arrest of police officers at the Inanda police station as well as the subsequent removal of its station commander pending an internal investigation by [national police commissioner] General Bheki Cele, sends a strong message that we will no longer tolerate such negligent behaviour.
“In fact, at the Durban Central satellite police station last year where 15 firearms were lost, two police officers were convicted by the court of law. But the department instituted its own investigations and these officers were ultimately dismissed from the Service.” Thirty employees were charged under police disciplinary regulations; 15 were found guilty and there are 9 pending cases from 1 April 2009 to 31 March 2010. In the last financial year 2008/2009, 26 were charged, 18 found guilty, three not guilty in a disciplinary enquiry and four were withdrawn.