POLL | Do you think off-duty police officers should carry guns?

28 June 2023 - 14:59
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A police officer allegedly shot a JMPD officer during an altercation in Joburg. Stock photo.
A police officer allegedly shot a JMPD officer during an altercation in Joburg. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/burlingham

The debate around police officers carrying firearms while off duty was reignited this week after it was alleged a SAPS member fatally wounded a JMPD member during an altercation.

Videos of the incident were shared online, showing the metro police officer with a gun in his hand and threatening to assault a man in a vehicle. 

The armed man tries to pull the other out of the vehicle before gunshots ring out and the man with the firearm is seen lying on the ground. 

Both men were said to be off-duty officers. It was not clear if their firearms were state-issued.  

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) confirmed it is investigating the incident. Spokesperson Robbie Raburabu said no one had been arrested. “The case would be investigated before any arrests could follow,” he said.

JMPD spokesperson Xolani Fihla confirmed the incident and named the metro police officer as Const Sibusiso Zikalala of Naledi, Soweto.

He had worked in the JMPD for 16 years. 

“He had served the department well. He was working in the K9 unit where they deal with high-profile cases which involve syndicates and drug-related matters. He did his best to serve the residents of Johannesburg with dedication. We are saddened by his passing.”

The incident sparked questions around whether off-duty officers should carry guns, with some saying it has its benefits and others claiming it often did more harm than good.

According to the Policy for the Control of Firearms in South Africa: “If you are employed in the SANDF or as a law enforcement officer and you use a state firearm, you may not carry it when you are off-duty unless your commanding officer authorises this.

“If you break any of these rules, you will be committing an offence, and may be declared unfit to possess a firearm.”

The Firearms Control Act adds “the head of an official institution may authorise an employee to have the firearm in his or her possession after his or her working hours; carry the firearm on his or her person outside the premises of his or her work; or store the firearm at his or her place of residence”.

Minister of police Bheki Cele told parliament in 2013 that police members can apply for a SAPS 108 personal inventory firearm.

“Every member who has a firearm on his/her personal inventory is issued with an official safe for the safekeeping of the SAPS firearm. The possession of a prescribed safe is a prerequisite to the issuing of an official firearm on personal inventory to a member.

“All SAPS firearms and ammunition on a room inventory of a safe or strong room, or issued to a member on his or her personal inventory, are inspected twice a year and then certified on the Provisioning Administration System. A stocktaking and certification certificate must be completed by the inventory controller,” he said.

The South African Police Service Amendment Act 2020 states; "where a member who performs an official duty is authorised by law to use force, he or she may use only the minimum force which is reasonably necessary and proportional in the circumstances; use deadly force only, subject to such force being reasonably necessary and proportional in the circumstances, if there is a threat of serious bodily harm to a member or any other person; and not use deadly force to protect property only."

Attempts to get further clarity from police were unsuccessful at the time of publishing, any update will be included once received.

The South African Policing Union told TimesLIVE police officers have a duty to act on crimes they may come across while they are off duty.

“It is to protect themselves and others. Whether you are on or off duty, you are a policeman. They can place themselves on duty to assist citizens, even if they are off-duty. There has been a high rate of police killing from criminals who target off-duty police officers. They need to protect themselves,” said spokesperson Lesiba Thobakgale.

“If police officers are disarmed, there will be a disaster. We will lose more lives of police officers if they are disarmed when off duty, while there is a responsibility to use the firearm responsibly.”

The Firearms Control Act stipulates police must be trained in the safe use of firearms and must carry their gun in a proper holster when on duty.

A study by Duxita Mistry, Anthony Minnaar, Jean Redpath and Jabu Dhlamini from the Institute for Human Rights & Criminal Justice Studies at Unisa said a number of violent incidents occurred while police members were off-duty.

“These included incidents in domestic situations, social gatherings or at shebeens. Service firearms were used to intimidate or threaten someone, or were used as blunt instruments. A number of assaults, cases of crimen injuria and even murder, were recorded where the victims were colleagues of the perpetrator. Domestic violence and aggression towards ordinary members of public were also recorded.

“Commanders appeared to be reluctant to institute any departmental steps, particularly in a domestic situation or where the incident happened while the member is off-duty. This was particularly so in less serious crimes such as common assault, pointing of a firearm or crimen injuria, and where no serious injuries occurred.”


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