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Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa yesterday said that more than 2600 firearms were either lost by police or stolen from them last year – leading to charges that ill-discipline in the South African Police Service (SAPS) was fuelling crime.

Democratic Alliance police spokeswoman Dianne Kohler Barnard said that Mr Mthethwa’s latest figures, given in a reply to a question from her, brought to 13438 firearms lost by or stolen from police in the past five year. Mr Mthethwa said in his reply that only 275 of the weapons lost in 2009-10 had been recovered. Of the more than 4000 cases of lost weapons in two years, a scant 56 officers had been charged and 33 were guilty.

“As minister of police I have repeatedly stated that we are serious about ensuring that the SAPS take greater responsibility for the loss of firearms by members of the police. To this end I have asked the Civilian Secretariat for Police to look into this matter.

“In addition, the recent arrest of police officers in Inanda (KwaZulu-Natal) and the suspension of the station commander by Gen (Bheki) Cele send a strong message that we will no longer tolerate such negligent behaviour. The department will be putting in place a number of processes to ensure police officers are held responsible for such loss of weapons. The Integrated Ballistics Identification System testing of such weapons will also assist us in tracking what has happened to weapons lost by police officers.

“The process of test firing of all SAPS firearms for acquisition on the Integrated Ballistics Identification System started during 2009. Up to date a total of 6499 specimens have been acquired on the national database.”

Ms Kohler Barnard said: “The outcome of this is that police negligence is actively fuelling crime and at the same time, the police service is spending enormous sums replacing firearms – money that could be spent elsewhere in fighting crime. An example of this is the tender put out in January of this year to purchase 4000 new pistols at a cost of R16m. ”

She said it was a cause of great concern that there was a 138% increase in firearm losses in KwaZulu-Natal – up from 353 firearms in 2008-09 to 840 in 2009-10 – which equalled five firearms lost from each police station in the province.

The 1708 guns lost or stolen in the Eastern Cape over two years amounted to one firearm lost for every 10 officers.

Source: Wyndham Hartley for Allafrica.com

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