..Gun monitoring system switched off by an unpaid service provider
The 158 firearms that disappeared from the evidence room at the Norwood Police Station in Johannesburg are just the tip of the iceberg: critics say the police are also unable to keep their own firearms safe.
In the past five financial years, 3 405 official police firearms were stolen or went missing, said DA police spokesperson Okkie Terblanche.According to Action Society spokesperson Ian Cameron, between 2005 and 2017, 26 025 firearms that were issued to police officers were stolen or could simply not be accounted for.“
In my opinion, the state is the largest smuggler and supplier of firearms to criminals. How many times have police-issue Z88s and R5s been confiscated from Cape gangs?” asked Cameron.
The police confirmed that Norwood station commander Colonel Phetole Mashaba had resigned last Friday.
Some of the 158 weapons that were missing – including R5, R1 and AK-47 rifles – were handed in by members of the public during an earlier amnesty period. Cameron said the disappearance of the firearms was discovered during an audit by the Falcons.“The investigation stems from a shooting last year between the police and armed robbers. It was later established that one of the stolen firearms was used in the shooting that led to the death of a member of the police.”Cameron alleged that 112 assault rifles, handguns, commercial explosives and detonators had been seized at a Ukrainian couple’s home in Norwood in 2014. These weapons had been handed in to the police station to be destroyed.On Monday, the chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on police, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, demanded
immediate action and an investigation. She called for urgent strategies to be put in place to address challenges at the police’s stolen goods storage rooms. Joemat-Pettersson also called for immediate disciplinary action to be taken against any police officers involved in the loss of the weapons.
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said there was no proper control or supervision of firearms among the police.According to answers to questions he asked in Parliament in June 2019, 49 people were successfully prosecuted nationwide in the 2018/19 financial year for the theft of firearms and ammunition.In the same period, 26 police officers were prosecuted because police weapons or ammunition had been stolen or disappeared due to negligence.Gideon Joubert, editor of Paratus – a platform for the latest developments in the South African debate on firearm ownership – said that, in terms of the Firearms Control Act, the police were obliged to keep an electronic register of firearms.
The electronic system that monitored where forensic evidence and firearms were in the police system was turned off several months ago because the service provider had not been paid.
“There are hopelessly too many confirmed cases of police officers stealing weapons from storerooms and selling them,” said Joubert.
DA MP Andrew Whitfield said many firearms seized by the police were “lost” by them. They also often lost their own firearms “because they leave them on the street”.
Terblanche said many people had handed their firearms in during the amnesty period while waiting for their gun licences.“Many of them are people on farms who need their weapons for protection,” he added.
Paul Oxley, chairperson of the Gun Owners’ Association, said police officers were not supposed to take their official firearms home unless there were very specific reasons for doing so.