04 March 2012 - 02:15 By PREGA GOVENDER
Bullets. File photo.
Bullets. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

MORE than 27000 police officers on active duty have failed the firearms proficiency test - making them a danger to their colleagues and the public.

This is according to a draft performance audit report by the SAPS internal audit unit dated December 14 2011.

The audit was conducted to assess the quality of training provided to police officers.

Yet, despite this, many still carry official service weapons.

According to the report, 27329 (or 17%) of the 157704 police officers who underwent training to comply with the regulations of the Firearms Control Act, which took effect in 2004, failed firearms proficiency tests.

A further 55429 members still have to be trained in accordance with the new legislation.

There are 213133 operational members, including 59955 active reservists, in the SAPS.

The firearms test which the policemen failed is similar to that which ordinary citizens have to pass in order to obtain a firearm licence.

Acting national police chief Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi appeared taken aback by the report yesterday, saying it would be unfair to comment on something he had not seen or heard of.

He said detailed questions should be submitted to his communications department.

But the department has refused to provide detailed comment to questions submitted two weeks ago.

"If there's that number not competent, then, in terms of the law, they can't carry weapons," Mkhwanazi said.

Mkhwanazi admitted that not all police officers had undergone firearms training in compliance with the new act.

Asked what action would be taken against those who were carrying firearms although they were declared not competent, he said: "I would charge the commander. I would want to know from the provincial commissioner why he [the member] was allowed to carry a firearm."

Findings in the 40-page report, based on an audit on training in the police force, included:

A total of 7578 of the 16123 operational members in the Eastern Cape have not yet been trained; and,

448 of the 1019 police members who failed firearms proficiency tests in the Western Cape were declared "untrainable" because of medical reasons or as a result of being declared unfit to possess a firearm.

The definition "untrainable", a policeman told the Sunday Times, is also used for those who cannot even pick up a rifle or continually fail to hit a target during shooting practice.

The Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (SASSETA) - the body tasked with issuing "learner achievement" certificates to members of the SAPS who pass proficiency tests - confirmed that only 3570 certificates were awarded since 2010.

The revelations come in the wake of the fatal shooting of Soweto teenager Thato Mokoka on February 14, allegedly by student constable Sipho Mbatha.

It has since come to light that Mbatha had been declared unstable and unfit to carry a firearm.

Mbatha is in police custody and will appear in court again on March 16. He allegedly had his R5 rifle in full automatic mode when shots were discharged, hitting Mokoka three times.

On Monday, a policeman based at Gauteng's Kempton Park Police Station was shot in the upper body after a gun went off while he was booking it out.

The audit report stated that one of the effects of having members who were "not yet competent" in handling weapons was that "they are placed on operational duties with a firearm they cannot use properly".

"This fact is a very high risk for the lives of fellow colleagues, as well as members of the community." It added: "The fact that members cannot utilise their firearms with confidence could lead to an increase in police killings."

The majority of those who failed the tests, according to the report, were operational members "who were supposed to carry their official firearms on a daily basis".

The audit team said despite "ample legislation" indicating what was expected of the police's top management, "there are still no proper policies and procedures in place regarding the competency issue of Police Act members [those on operational duty]."

Instructors at tactical training academies told the team that some police members kept on failing to meet basic requirements, despite receiving continuous firearm training.

The report also found that suspended police commissioner Bheki Cele's controversial decision to reinstate the contracts of 229 police trainees who failed their exams three times last year was "in direct contradiction" of the memorandum of agreement signed between SAPS and trainees.

Cele had instructed his top brass from the 10 basic training academies to give the recruits, who were among a batch of 5413, another shot at the exams.

Another finding was that a four-week SWAT programme, now called a street survival course, was slashed to two weeks.

Nine modules, including roadblock etiquette, counter-sniper techniques, and ambush and counter-ambush techniques, were left out of the new programme.

Cindy Chikunga, chairman of parliament's police portfolio committee, said of the findings: "If such a person is not competent, then it's a problem, because they face criminals who are well trained in using firearms."

Describing the situation as "outrageous", the Democratic Alliance's shadow police minister, Dianne Kohler Barnard, said that SAPS top management were breaking the law if they allowed members who did not have firearms proficiency certificates to carry guns.

"We have SAPS members flouting the laws that we, as citizens, have to abide by," she said.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa's spokesman, Zweli Mnisi, would not comment, as he said the issues were of an "operational nature".