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Cape Town - Nearly a quarter of the police officers required to carry a firearm are not competent to do so because they failed the test, says Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko.
Also, more than 900 officers - 281 from the Western Cape - were charged in the past four years with helping detainees escape, he said in response to questions from the national and provincial legislatures.
By July 14, only 116 201 of 155 534 SAPS members met the standards to carry a firearm, he told DA MP Dianne Kohler- Barnard in a written reply.
Kohler-Barnard said this meant that 39 333 or 25.3 percent of operational SAPS officers did not have the competency to carry a firearm.
“This confirms a 2012 leaked performance audit which revealed that 27 000 police officers had failed their firearms proficiency test. It is of great concern that not all our police service members have the necessary training to perform their jobs to the best of their ability. This not only puts them in danger, but it may also result in harm to members of the public when they perform their duties.”
It might also be contributing to the “trigger-happy” firing of weapons, which was “increasingly becoming a trend in our SAPS”, Kohler-Barnard said.
From 2009 to 2011 alone, the number of allegations of police brutality increased by 91 percent, she said.
“The minister of police, Nathi Nhleko, must take urgent steps to address the lack of training that is making police officers a potential danger to the citizens they are tasked with protecting.”
Nhleko’s spokesman Musa Zondi on Sunday said he was unable to give details of why some officers had failed the firearms test and what measures would be put in place to correct this. “I will need to get the details from the police.”
Nhleko said that national police commissioner Riah Phiyega was not required to carry a firearm because she was “classified as management”.
Kohler-Barnard said the DA would submit further parliamentary questions to seek clarity on the status of the officers who do not possess firearms “or possess firearms without the requisite clearance”, and the measures put in place to correct the problem.
In a written-reply to a question from DA MPL Mireille Wenger in the Western Cape, Nhleko said 907 officers had been charged with helping detainees escape from 2010 until last year.
Of them, 516 had been found guilty in disciplinary hearings.
More than a quarter - 281 - were from the Western Cape. Nearly 60 percent of these were found guilty, but only two were dismissed.
Wenger said this was “cause for concern”.
In the province, 162 officers were found guilty, but only two were dismissed. Of these, 133 received written or verbal warnings, while the rest were fined, suspended or received counselling.
“The consequences appear to be far too lenient. Aiding an escaper is tantamount to defeating the ends of justice and is a serious matter,” Wenger said.
She would take this further.
Wenger, who is also chairwoman of the standing committee on community safety, said the number of officers committing crimes was alarming.
It was even more worrying that they were being kept on in the service. She would investigate how many of those found guilty in disciplinary hearings had been criminally charged, Wenger said.