Pretoria — Police management on Thursday said they had halted the process of withdrawal of firearms from police officers.
Briefing the media on what has been erroneously dubbed in some reports as police "disarmament", acting National Police Commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi said the move to take the firearms from the officers was informed by an internal audit report, which was subsequently leaked to the press.
"Such a document was meant to assist the management of the police to gauge the extent of training given to members under the command. Furthermore, to ascertain compliance with the prescripts of the law - in this regard, the firearms legislation," said Mkhwanazi.
Mkhwanazi said they had issued a directive to all divisional and provincial commissioners to halt the process of withdrawal of firearms immediately and those already taken be reversed.
"The status quo will prevail until a proper plan and guideline implementation is communicated to all provinces and divisions."
Noting the potential of the "disarmament" reports to cause panic in both the police and community at large, Mkhwanazi reaffirmed the police's commitment to service delivery and stamping out crime.
To help the police effectively fulfil their mandate, Mkhwanazi said they had to ensure they were compliant with the very same laws they had to enforce in terms of handling firearms.
"As the police, we cannot be seen to be flouting the very law that we have been charged to enforce. It is therefore through the process of competency that we seek to have properly assessed members that are entrusted with the handling and use of firearms," he explained.
Section 98 of the Firearms Control Act (Act 60 of 2000) places an obligation on the police to observe and be competent in the handling of firearms.
Mkhwanazi said they had made progress so far with training police.
In terms of the Training Administration System (TAS), 129 713 members have undergone firearm proficiency training. Out of this number 102 313 were declared competent, with 27 400 members not yet competent. The acting police chief stressed that this did not mean all these members had failed their competency tests.
"Out of this 27 400, 20 864 did not fail but have just not completed their training. They would have either completed legal principles only or use of firearms only - one needs both to be declared fully competent."
Out of the 27 400, 6 536 members that were declared not yet competent need to do remedial training and be re-assessed as a form of intervention. Within this group, some are competent in one but not all firearms.
Police members are required to be competent in three firearms -- handgun, shotgun and assault rifle.
After members have been declared competent, a verification process follows, and it is only after this that a competency certificate can be issued.
After members have been found competent on training, they must be declared fit in accordance with Section 9(2) (d) to (p) of the Firearms Control Act (Act 60 of 2000). After they comply with the competency and the fitness, a permit may be issued to the member.
Members have to maintain their competency with annual maintenance shooting sessions.