Cape Town - Cops are hiring out their guns to criminals, Western Cape police commissioner Arno Lamoer admitted on Wednesday.
Speaking at the Cape Town Press Club, Lamoer said all police firearms were now recorded on a database and if a weapon was used during a crime it could be traced to the officer.
“[Spent] cartridges can be linked to firearms even if the serial number has been removed,” he said.
Lamoer said 87 police officers were arrested in the past financial year for selling drugs to gangsters and taking part in armed robberies.
Of these, 20 had been fired. The cases for the rest were still in court.
His admission comes after criminologist Liza Grobler’s groundbreaking research highlighted collusion between gangs and the police.
According to police statistics, 159 police-issue guns were reported as lost or stolen over three years.
However, it is not only official guns that are passed on to criminals.
According to Grobler, “corrupt” police officers made firearms disappear from evidence stores, and these are sold to gangsters.
Lamoer said fighting gangs and substance abuse were among the police’s priorities.
On average, they arrested 30 people a week for possession of illegal firearms, some of which were not registered and others registered as stolen.
Gang wars have claimed scores of lives since the beginning of the year, and a number of children have been caught in the crossfire.
President Jacob Zuma refused a request by Premier Helen Zille for the army to be deployed in gang hot spots, choosing instead more intensive action by the police, and long-term interventions by social and economic clusters of the government.
“The SANDF is not trained in policing, we don’t want a firefight, we want a sustainable solution,” he said.
Lamoer said that since April they had made four presentations to the provincial government on their Operation Combat to fight gangs, dealing with the drug value chain and violence against women and children.
Operation Combat involved identifying gangsters, building profiles, and search-and-seizure operations.
While a lot of attention had been paid to gang violence in areas such as Lavender Hill and Hanover Park, where 23 people had been murdered in three months, in the same period there had been 56 murders in Nyanga.
“… the same attention is not paid to Nyanga, which has the highest murder rate in the country,” Lamoer said.
In a written provincial parliamentary reply to MPL Mark Wiley, Community Safety MEC Dan Plato said that of the 159 lost or stolen firearms 50 were recovered, although many had had their serial numbers filed off and could not be identified as police-issue.
Mitchells Plain recorded 11 missing guns, Nyanga eight and Delft and Cape Town nine each.
Grobler’s thesis, which exposed police links to gangs, showed collusion between police officers and gangs before raids, how they seized and resold drugs and were on the payrolls of gang leaders.
On reports that Nyanga cluster commander Jeremy Veary had threatened to shoot armed gangsters, Lamoer said the police would protect any resident and the police if their lives were in danger.
Veary reportedly also said the gang war in Hanover Park had nothing to do with a fight over drug turf - there were 122 parolees in the suburb, freed early by Zuma.
Wiley said self-defence was an acknowledged and defendable reason for drastic action and gangsters had shown repeatedly they had little regard for human life. The police had the right and the power to use deadly force.
Wiley said the facts needed to be weighed against Zuma’s remarks when he announced the amnesty.
Zuma said no prisoner, parolee or probationer who was guilty of “aggressive, sexual, firearm or drug offences” would be released and people who are declared dangerous criminals would also not be released.
“The DA in the Western Cape would like to know, how is it then possible that this ‘crime’ has been committed and who is going to be held accountable,” Wiley said.