Shock stats on missing guns

2011-09-24 00:00

THE police lost more than 18 000 revolvers, pistols, rifles and shotguns between April 2005 and March this year — many more, it seems, than was originally declared by police chiefs to Parliament.

Official police figures obtained in an access to information application show that 2 816 police weapons were lost in KwaZulu-Natal in this period.

Policemen stationed at Ulundi have the dubious achievement of having lost more weapons (575) than any other station in the country over the six years. Almost 186 weapons went missing at Durban Central police station.

Policemen at stations in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Gauteng are more negligent than anywhere else in SA.

Many of these weapons, says Dr Johan Burger, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), would have found their way into the hands of criminals.

According to statistics released recently, crimes like murder, rape and house robberies are down, except for Zululand where these crimes are on the increase.

Weekend Witness obtained these figures from a student at Wits University’s journalism department, Albie Heigers, who launched a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) application to obtain figures for police weapons that were lost or stolen at individual police stations.

Ulundi policemen lost 558 weapons in a single year (2009/10), the figures show. The other worst-performing police stations are Mthatha (528), Johannesburg Central (504) and Pretoria Central (286).

The Inanda police station, with 80 lost or stolen weapons, and Ntuzuma (72), Bhekithemba (65) and Nongoma (60) are among the 50 worst performing police stations. There are more than a 1 000 police stations throughout the country.

The figures conflict with numbers provided by the police to Parliament and the police were unable to explain why this week.

For example, police said in response to a question in Parliament that for the 2009/10 financial year they had lost 3 226 weapons and for 2008/09 a total of 2 759.

In response to the PAIA application though, the police said that 3 814 weapons were lost or stolen in 2009/10 and 3 404 in 2008/09.

According to the figures provided in the PAIA applications, fewer police weapons were lost or stolen in the last financial year. Between March last year and March this year 1 335 guns were stolen.

Burger says management at some stations is clearly dysfunctional and top management is not acting severely enough against those commanders.

The police have 269 761 weapons, most of which are service pistols, while the rest (4 916) are automatic weapons, mortars and sniper rifles. All these weapons are now being ballisticly tested to determine if they have been used in crimes when lost or stolen.

There are 154 000 policemen in South Africa, which means that between one out of every eight to nine cops lose their guns.

Burger called the figures “shocking” and said, “Criminals are not as dependant as before on arms caches. There are police weapons in circulation and they are used for robberies and other serious crime.”

Burger said that between 2008 and 2010 only 56 policemen had been charged in connection with lost or stolen weapons. Most have been found guilty.

Policemen who lose their weapons fall in two categories: those who are simply negligent and those who provide them to criminals.

But, Burger said, there is another alarming trend — weapons being stolen from police armouries.

“There are cases where stations are attacked by criminals and police weapons are stolen. But why are there cases where keys are lying around and where it is easy to raid the armoury?”

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