'Cops must protect themselves'
Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday expressed his support for an amendment to the law to strengthen the hand of policemen in dealing with violent criminals.
"If you take a gun out to me that intent is more than clear, the next thing the criminal is going to shoot at me. That intent is very clear," he told around a thousand police officers in Pretoria.
Zuma said if police were expert marksmen they might be able to shoot at the criminal's hand when they brandished their weapons.
"But in that spur of the moment... where will you have time to look for the hand?
"My thinking is once a criminal takes out their gun the intent is clear... police must then act to protect themselves and the innocents."
Criminal Procedure Act
Earlier this month Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the amendment to Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act, which will give police more power in dealing with violent and dangerous criminals, was close to finalisation and would be brought before Parliament soon.
Zuma said the duty of police was to protect all people but when their lives and the lives of innocent people were threatened, they had no choice but to use force.
He added that this was not intended to encourage a culture of trigger-happy police officers.
Zuma asked whether police, when faced with criminals brandishing weapons, still had to fire a warning shot.
"Am I right?" he said and police responded in the affirmative.
He then quipped: "Are the criminals having that rule?"
"Once a criminal takes out a gun, they shoot and once police try firing a warning shot, they are dead.
'Criminals don't take an oath to do warning shots'
"That's the reality," Zuma said.
He added : "Criminals don't take an oath to do warning shots or whatever."
The amendment to Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act has raised concerns that police may use deadly force when not necessary.
Zuma sought to make police understand the responsibilities and that the amendment would only apply when dealing with violent and dangerous criminals.
He told police that they carried an enormous responsibility and that they were not "a police service" rather a "police force".
"It's far beyond just services. It's a serious matter.
"The police force is the eyes, ears and shield of the nation," he said.
He said the crime statistics released by Mthethwa earlier this month were a reminder that more work was needed to make a dent in the number of house and business robberies as well as hijackings.
"These crimes evoke insecurity... as in most cases the victims are murdered or permanently maimed. They are left with lifelong scars.
"If these things are happening we are dealing with citizens feeling insecure," he said.
Zuma added that the economy could improve but if people were afraid of being killed these gains would not be important.
"I think the safety of our people is very, very important," he said.
He told police that government would do everything in its power to help reduce the dangers that affected them.
"Our hearts go out to the families of the men and women who have lost their lives," he said describing the work the police do as being "fraught with danger".
Zuma was speaking at the Voortrekker Monument where he was meeting station commanders to discuss "how to take forward the fight against crime".