Firearms Control Bill: SAPS Submission

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24 August 2000
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

24 August 2000

Chairperson: Mr M E George

Document handed out:
SAPS submission: Firearm Strategy in support of the Firearm Control Bill

The National Commissioner and his team presented a view of the relation of firearms to crime and violence and used this as the basis for its support of the Firearms Control Bill. This was followed by an overview of their Firearm Strategy and current operations to reduce and eradicate the illegal pool and firearms. The SAPS described new initiatives that would pave the way for the implementation of the Firearm Control Bill. The SAPS also dealt with the issues raised by certain technical submissions as well as the drafting of regulations. The team followed this with comments on methods to ensure the effective control processes and procedures regarding firearms. There was also a briefing on the Firearms Related Crime Prevention Strategy.

In the discussion that followed, the Members of Parliament expressed concern over the method of implementation and the ability of SAPS budget to cover the implementation of the Bill effectively. This was accompanied by criticism over the implementation of the current Act. Attention was also drawn to the problem of illiteracy amongst police officers with regard to their understanding the Bill as a requirement to implement the Bill. There was concern over whether the registration process of the Bill was affordable.

The response of the National Commissioner's team was a fiery defence of the SAPS and a reassurance that the SAPS was functioning with the budget they had. The public played a role in exacerbating certain isolated negative incidents and entrenched the negative view of the police force. The primary aim of the SAPS was to reduce the levels of crime and the control of guns facilitated this exercise.

The National Commissioner were late in arriving. Mr Booi (ANC) commented that this was not the first time. He requested that the National Commissioner show due respect for Parliament. The Commissioner apologised and noted that his late arrival was not intended as a slight but was due to difficulties on the flight to Cape Town.

The Chairperson asked that in the course of the SAPS presentation, the National Commissioner comment on criticisms expressed at the public hearings such as:
- the Bill could not be implemented in practice;
- it was ridiculously under-budgeted;
- had the current Act been fully implemented there would not be a need for a new bill; - the Central Firearms Register was currently in a mess and was understaffed.
He asked how the SAPS planned to overcome such practical shortcomings and requested answers relating to the capacity of the SAPS to implement the Bill.

National Commissioner's overview on firearms, crime and violence
The National Commissioner was certain that the Firearms Control Bill was essential to the fight against violent crime. This had to be accompanied by a society that respected the law and was prepared to work within the law. He said the Bill will help reduce gun violence by more effective control of legal firearms and will also cultivate a culture of responsible gun ownership and usage.

The National Commissioner saw firearms as the main source of violence with regard to hijackings, smuggling of narcotics, bank robberies, cash in transit robberies and property-related crimes. Firearms played a significant role in the organised crime sector. Perpetrators use guns to protect themselves and to ensure a maximum profit for their activities. He also referred to the massacres and violence in KwaZulu-Natal, the taxi violence in the Western Cape and the gang violence in the Eastern and Western Cape, crimes against women and children and the kidnapping of children.

The SAPS main focus was to seize illegal firearms. The National Commissioner pointed out that so far the SAPS had been fairly successful and referred to the Hillbrow crackdown in March which seized more than 8000 firearms. He noted the firearm was a serious problem in our society and that it had to be dealt with on many levels. The only way the SAPS could play a role in changing society was with the implementation of stringent rules with regard to firearms in general. Most of the firearms seized had their serial numbers removed which meant that they were once legally owned firearms that had been shifted to the illegal pool. Thus stringent laws regulating private firearms had to be entrenched to reduce the level of violent crime.

Firearms strategy of the SAPS
Mr George Moorcroft noted that the development and maintenance of appropriate firearm related regulators was necessary and this was an integral part of the Bill. He said that effective control processes for firearms were necessary as was the prevention of crime and violence through awareness and social crime prevention partnerships. The Firearms Strategy was supported by other programmes of the SAPS including the Service Delivery Improvement programme, the National Crime Combating Strategy and the National Crime Prevention Strategy. The Firearms Control Bill makes a clear distinction between what is legal and what is not and this would improve the powers of the police in terms of search and seizure.

New initiatives to pave the way for implementation of Firearm Control Bill
Mr Gary Kruzer explained these initiatives as being: the enhancement of the firearm management process; the reduction and management of current State-owned firearms; the clearance of the SAP stores of firearms no longer required; the tracing of illegal firearms; auditing import/export/transit of firearms; the establishment of an information framework in relation to illegal and criminal use of firearms as well as international cooperation in developing protocols.

Capacity building strategy to ensure effective firearm control processes
Mr Jaco Bothma, Director of the Central Firearms Register, emphasised the establishment of sustained adequate capacity in the SAPS to ensure effective implementation of this Bill.

He made the following points about systems, staffing and equipment:
- The Business Process Re-engineering study is currently being concluded by the State Information Technology Agency. It looks at the re-engineering of all processes involved in the regulation and licensing of legal firearms in close cooperation with internal and external role players.
- The licensing process would be carried out by Designated Firearms Officials (DFO) who would be responsible for the receipt of applications; checking the completeness and accuracy of the information; background checks and inspections. A DFO model is currently being piloted in the Western Cape.
- The Central Firearms Register would play a crucial role in the implementation of the Bill. The CFR is in the process of recruiting 135 members during this financial year. - Other units that will receive additional staffing are the criminal record centre (50 posts), the forensic laboratory (20 posts), the border police (20 posts) and the illegal firearm investigation units (39 posts). The Human Resources budget has an additional amount of R72 million earmarked for the next two financial years to appoint members at the above-mentioned units as the need arises.
- Relevant units will also receive IT hardware for which an additional amount of R62 million has been budgeted for for the next two financial years.
- Current initiatives in the CFR act as a pre-support phase of the actual implementation phases. Other initiatives are the current audit of state department firearms in order to identify obsolete firearms for destruction, the voluntary handing-in of redundant legally owned firearms and a campaign addressing the need to licence or destroy firearms of deceased estates.

Firearms Related Crime Prevention Strategy
Ms Suzanne Pienaar spoke on awareness and education programmes that would particularly target the youth and aim to change the culture of violence and reduce gun violence. Social Crime prevention initiatives and programmes are to be intergrated into the broader strategies of this component and will be implemented through community-based partnerships wherever possible. She acknowledged that Firearm Free Areas (FFA) will still require extensive consultation and development some of which was still outstanding. FFAs cannot be expected to eradicate planned criminal violence but they are seen as a mechanism for avoiding violent crimes committed during arguments or while under the influence of alcohol. Research has been conducted into the implementation and maintenance of FFAs.

Conclusion by the National Commissioner
The challenges of budget and the Bill's implementation by SAPS staff would be faced. However the main issue was reducing violent crime in the country and SAPS welcomed this legislation. Senior SAPS management are dedicated to a service delivery improvement programme. All SAPS members will receive education and awareness programmes on the application of the Bill's provisions.

He emphasised that one piece of legislation could not change the situation around, but had to be complemented by other legislation that would address people's basic needs (such as water and electricity) and holistically tackle the root causes of crime. Only then could the Bill reach its full potential.

Dr Geldenhuys (NNP) had the following comments:
- Referring to the Commissioner's comment on the basic necessities that should be met such as water and electricity, he asked if the Commissioner thought that it would be better to allocate the Bill's implementation budget to water and electricity provision and rather concentrate on implementing the existing Act dealing with firearms.
- He queried the validity of the Bill's implementation budget when compared to Canada's implementation of the Firearms Control Bill.
- He expressed concern over the cost of the installation of a proper IT system. He questioned whether such a Bill was actually affordable and whether the cost of the re-registration process would be worth it.
- He asked if firearms as well as users had to be re-licensed.
- He expressed criticism of the department's manpower.

Another committee member asked for clarification regarding license renewal and questioned the SAPS ability to cope with the duties expected to arise from the implementation of the new Bill.

Mr Maziya (ANC) noted that police capacity was not coping with its current workload and wondered what measures where going to be taken to ensure that it could actually cope with the implementation of another bill. How would its implementation complement the activities of the policemen on a daily basis? He asked if the firearms recovered during the taxi violence in the Western Cape could be traced back to a legal owner.

Ms van Wyk (UDM) asked for clarity on the proposed budget for the training of the police. What programmes were in place for training since some police officers were still not familiar with the current legislation which was 31 years old?

Ms M Sotyu (ANC) was extremely concerned about whether the SAPS was on top of the situation and challenged the National Commissioner to provide time frames within which a measure of progress achieved by the Bill could be attained.

Advocate Swart (DP) had the following comments and queries:
- How many people would be working on the CFR? He asked for a description of the tasks of the policemen working in this unit.
- What was wrong with the CFR that it registered an inaccuracy level of 70%?
- Should the priority be on hand guns? He suggested that perhaps the focus should revert to other guns such as machine guns.
- When would the implementation begin?
- He requested clarity on the spending and whether the budget was big enough to implement the Bill successfully.

A DP committee member asked for clarity on competency tests and gun free zones. He asked specifically about the implementation of gun free zones in areas where the institution or owner could not afford metal detectors and safes such as schools.

Ms Sosibo (ANC) asked for clarity on the drafting of the regulations and who are the relevant role players.

Mr Ngubeni (ANC) stated that many police officers were illiterate or had very poor education. He wondered how such people would be able to understand and implement the bill.

Mr Booi (ANC) expressed concern that draconian laws would be resorted to if the police did not understand and implement the law. He was adamant that money reflected in the budget for service delivery training should be reflected in the station manager's interaction with people. He stated that the present police were inadequate and this would not aid the implementation of the Bill. Mr Booi was also concerned about what he called the stagnating racial ratio of the SAPS personnel. Would new recruits be selected in order to implement the bill and to balance the racial ratio of SAPS personnel or was this to remain the same?

Mr Nkosi Ngubane (MEC) was concerned that eighteen was an immature age to qualify one for access to a gun. He feared that crime would travel to schools more directly through students who had guns and were still at school. He also expressed concern over the method of implementation of Gun-free Zones in schools indicating that it was even within the budget of schools to provide textbooks for scholars. Implementing Gun-Free Zones would not be an economically feasible option. He asserted that younger people who have guns treat shooting as a game and are not in touch with the hard core realities of what shooting or killing someone is like.

Response by the National Commissioner
The National Commissioner incorporated his answer in a single reply. He began with the statement that the police are the only government body that works on a Sunday; pointing out that if the police did not work on a Sunday there would be anarchy. He was adamant that the police were doing their utmost with the resources they had available to them. He noted that the prisons would not be overcrowded had the police not been doing their job and were as inefficient as the committee members indicated.

He conceded that the situation was far from perfect, but also stated that there is only one policing service in South Africa and that the police force was being targeted by both the people they were protecting and the criminals they were fighting. He stated that the type of work that the police do could not be planned within time frames because the criminal is unpredictable.

He gave the guarantee that any illegal firearms that were found would be confiscated immediately and the person arrested. He stated quite firmly that the SAPS were not waiting for the Bill to be enacted in order to carry out enforcement of law. All policemen were trained to handle weapons. By placing emphasis on those police officers who have acted unlawfully using their firearm, this serves to overshadow the good work of 99% of police officers. By putting all police officers under the same umbrella as the criminals, the police officers were being treated as criminals and therefore there was a lack of confidence in the police.

In response to the question regarding the capacity of the police, he stated that the the police have the commitment and readiness to implement the Bill. He stated that Parliament decides the budget that the police receive and if it truly believed that the police needed to expanded, it would increase the resources meted out to the police.

He noted that to compare South Africa to other countries such as Canada was to compare apples with oranges. The implementation framework of another country would suit that country and not South Africa. South Africa is unique and has special needs. It needs a quick remedy because the situation worsens each day. The situation in Canada did not need emergency treatment as does South Africa. The focus of the police in South Africa is to save lives and the type of legislation that is necessary to address this need, will be different from a country that has different problems. He stated clearly that members of the force undergo training constantly and have their skills upgraded regularly. The Bill does require special training and this will be incorporated into the general training of the police officers. He said that there were no guarantees in this business and that they would do their best.

Mr Bothma stated that the CFR would be 100% correct if people complied with the rules. People failed to report new addresses and stolen guns. This contributed to the inaccurate database. He stated that it was not necessary to appoint a new officer at every station for the Firearm Control Register, as there may be four people in a year that would come in to register their firearms at particular police stations. The in-house station officers would be appointed to do the same thing and will receive the necessary training to enable efficacious results.

Mr Schutte of the National Commissioner's team worked through the budgetary details and stated that it was not going to cost as much as some MPs feared.

Ms Pienaar noted that social reform must happen alongside legislative implementation in order not to frustrate any meaningful change.

Meetings will recommence from 4 September 2000.


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