Police minister Nathi Mthethwa speaks during a press conference about the the two-day strategic planning for police management held at the Birchwood hotel in Boksburg. Picture:Paballo Thekiso

Johannesburg - Dozens of SAPS members are so afraid of handling firearms that they have to be provided with counselling before undergoing training on how to use their guns.

This was the explanation offered by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa yesterday in response to more than 20 000 police officers who had reportedly been found incompetent in handling firearms.

Police management told Parliament’s portfolio committee on SAPS last year that in 2011 officers lost more than 850 guns, mostly through negligence and that only 300 officers had been charged for the losses.

According to reports, some guns were lost in toilets, stolen in robberies while police were drinking, some were lost in burglaries in homes that were not locked, stolen out of state and private vehicles, while one was lost while a policeman was drunk.

Mthethwa said some of the reasons provided for the loss of guns were “fairy tales” that he did not want to talk about, but he said it was owing to negligence and in other cases it was officers who involved themselves in criminal acts.

“I actually raised this today (loss of firearms),” said Mthethwa, who was speaking ahead of the SAPS two-day strategic planning with 1 500 station and cluster commanders.

“How firearms are handled is actually something that has to be dealt with at the police station level.”

The minister said that the more than 20 000 officers who were found incompetent in handling firearms were tested in various firearms which some had not used before, but he admitted even that was no excuse. “Those gaps (in handling of different firearms) should be filled. Police officers should be competent in handling all firearms,” he said.

“Again, it comes back to training. Some police officers are afraid of handling firearms and they have to be counselled.”

Police were meeting to take stock on the state of policing this weekend at a time when the SAPS image has been called into question.

But Mthethwa defended the image of the SAPS yesterday, saying there had been a specific focus by police management on checking how upright police officers were. “There is a process of auditing police officers that led to the campaign to root out those involved in criminal acts.”

The minister said that while there were internal weaknesses, it was easy for people to talk badly about the SAPS. He said in the De Doorns farmworkers’ strike, for instance, 26 officers had been injured, but this had not been reported.

The fundamental problem was about training, but this was already being addressed. Mthethwa said police management would come out of the meeting with a 10-point plan on transforming the SAPS on the make-up of a cadre of a cop people wanted to see in a democratic country.

Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega said police were also making good progress on the more than 16 000 police officers who did not have driver’s licences.

Saturday Star