5 100 police officers failed firearms proficiency test in 2010/2011


5 138 members of the South Africa Police Service (SAPS) were found not competent to use a firearm in the 2010/2011 financial year, according to the Ministry of Police.

This was revealed by the Ministry in a written reply to a parliamentary question posed by L H Adams of Cope. According to the Training Administration System (TAS) of the SAPS, 5 138 members were found not yet competent in terms of the competency test during the 2010/11 financial year. “This does not mean that the same members are still not competent, as members receive remedial training and are re-assessed,” the Ministry stated.

All members of the South African Police Service have access to official firearms when they are on duty unless they have been declared unfit to possess a firearm in terms of firearms legislation.

Members of the SAPS that have not passed the examinations in terms of Act 60 of 2000 for a competency certificate to possess a firearm are given the opportunity to do remedial training and be re-assessed as a form of intervention, the Ministry added. “The National Commissioner has tasked a committee to consolidate all instructions regarding firearm competency in the SAPS. One of the desired outcomes will address the issue of members that either cannot obtain or maintain their competency. The committee has not yet finalized this matter.”

According to the draft performance audit report by the SAPS internal audit unit dated December 14, 2011, more than 27 000 police officers on active duty have failed the firearms proficiency test. The audit was conducted to assess the quality of training provided to police officers.

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. The firearms test the policemen failed is similar to that which ordinary citizens have to pass in order to obtain a firearm licence.

Findings in the 40-page report, based on an audit on training in the police force, included:
– A total of 7 578 of the 16 123 operational members in the Eastern Cape have not yet been trained; and,
– 448 of the 1 019 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 3 570 certificates were awarded since 2010.

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].”

In response to another parliamentary question (posed by M Waters of the Democratic Alliance) it emerged that police members in Gauteng spend an average of 8 hours at the shooting range during shooting practice. This time includes not only shooting but also activities which relate to the safe handling of a firearm. Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa stated that police officers use an average of 50 rounds at the shooting range during shooting practice.