The SA Police Service's armed task forces must be strengthened so they can "fight fire with fire" when confronting dangerous criminals, Safety and Security Minister Nathi Mthethwa said on Wednesday.
Briefing Parliament's safety and constitutional affairs select committee, he also suggested the law might need to be changed if it was perceived to be favouring criminals
"We don't believe that, when you are faced... with criminals armed with sophisticated weaponry, the task would be to take out some human rights charter. Because we are in the field, we are in the killing field, where criminals are killing law-abiding citizens.
"If you look at cash-in-transit heists, it's people who go all out to get what they want, whatever the circumstances, even if it means they kill those security guards. They kill whoever is around.
"Now we are saying to the police that we ourselves have an obligation as well to strengthen the arm of these task forces. So that they are able, on the field, to teach those people a lesson - fight fire with fire. There's no other way on that."
Mthethwa said the crime intelligence unit of the police had to be strengthened.
"If we want to deal a blow to crime, we have to strengthen the crime intelligence unit in particular. It has to give us the ammunition to break the backbone of organised crime."
He said there was a perception the country's "legislative regime" was flexible and favoured criminals.
"We need to see how do you have a combination and a balance of human rights culture, but at the same time be effective as police...
"If South Africans feel they are not safer in their country because of the legislative regime, then we have to look into those parts of the legislature."
Mthethwa told the committee there were 176 000 police members in the SAPS, of whom between 95 000 and 98 000 were uniformed officers. This meant - using 2002 census figures - there was one police officer for every 347 people.
"We do have objective challenges when it comes to numerical strength," he said. - Sapa