Hawks (DPCI) Illegal Firearms Unit

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15 August 2017
Chairperson: Mr F Beukman (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Hawks, officially the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation (DPCI), briefed the Committee on the establishment of its Illegal Firearms Unit but it was curtailed due to DPCI’s lack of knowledge on specifics about the delay in its permanent establishment. The anti-gang strategy presentation by the South African Police Service (SAPS) was removed from the agenda due to the presentation being received too late.

DPCI said the establishment of the National Bureau for Illegal Firearms Control and Priority Violent Crime was a response to the promise made by the President during the 2016 State of the Nation Address to establish two specialised units to investigate national priority offences related to the proliferation of illegal firearms and to drugs (South African Narcotics Enforcement Bureau). The DPCI briefing focused predominantly on statistics for the interim capacity of the unit, its proposed structure; statistics for firearm retrievals, arrests and convictions; and about the transfer of the unit from Detective Services to DPCI.

Members raised concerns about the rate of arrests versus convictions, especially those of Limpopo, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape. They felt that the inclusion of convictions from older cases did not allow them to gain an accurate picture. The Committee should receive statistics on the conviction rate for the arrests made by the DPCI Unit in the next financial year. Members asked for the reasons that convictions were not coming out of the arrests to understand where gaps in the system exist. They asked for specific time frames for both the national joint action plan and implementation of a permanent structure within the unit. Members queried the delay in introducing a permanent structure so far. In response, DPCI explained that the process had been halted until there has been consultations with labour.

Members requested details on the specific types and origin of weapons being retrieved and if they were linked to SAPS and the Defence Force weaponry; what sort of crimes these weapons were being used for; if the Illegal Firearms Task Team would remain intact within DPCI once transferred from SAPS Detective Services or absorbed into the National Bureau for Illegal Firearms Control and Priority Violent Crime, as well as the reasons for this decision. In response to Members asking if the war against crime is being won, DPCI expressed concern that it is not at present and that to do so, there needs to be joint effort where all resources are put into one integrated entity and this is what SAPS is currently working towards.

Due to DPCI’s lack of knowledge on the specifics of the labour challenges and the solution, the Committee decided to stop the presentation and requested that both SAPS and the DPCI return within two weeks with a fuller briefing on the issues at hand, with suggestions for solutions and specific time frames in mind.

Meeting report

The Chairperson discussed the upcoming programme, noting that the next day they would engage with the Acting SAPS National Commissioner on the vetting status of the Head of Crime Intelligence and the CFO of the South African Police Service (SAPS) would be in attendance. He also highlighted the upcoming meetings focusing on private security, SAPS Quarter 1 performance, illegal mining, and the Central Firearms Registry Turnaround Strategy.

The Chairperson congratulated the SAPS special units in KwaZulu-Natal for their handling of the transit robberies yesterday and complimented their professionalism, preparation and the quality of presentations during the committee oversight visit to KZN. The committee were looking forward to a follow up presentation from KZN but also emphasized the commitment from police in the area that a satellite police station would be set up there as soon as the proper space can be indicated. Providing more support to the Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) as well as the inclusion of five more members to the specialised task team is an important part of ensuring they have the necessary support.

The Chairperson highlighted the need for serious vetting within SAPS personnel, drawing on the recent appearance of the Northern Cape Head of Legal Services in court for corruption, and the media that an Eastern Cape sergeant allegedly lent his vehicle to gangs with whom he interacted socially.

High profile cases within the last week were used by the Chairperson to highlight the need for SAPS to act without favour or fear in relation to violence towards women. It is important that confidence in the system is not destroyed by the perception that some are more equal than others. Domestic violence and violence against women is a scourge that must be tackled head on. He welcomed the Minister of Police’s assurances that high profile cases would be dealt with properly.

The Chairperson noted that the first briefing from SAPS on its Anti-Gang Strategy had not been submitted in compliance with the seven day rule making it impossible for the Portfolio Committee to prepare properly, which was unacceptable. He suggested that the presentation be rescheduled for another day.

The Committee agreed that it be rescheduled for a later date.

Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) on the Illegal Firearms Unit
Standing in for Acting Hawks Head Lieutenant-General, Yolisa Matakata, who is abroad, Major General Peter Arendse spoke about the progress since the establishment of the specialised units, focusing on the National Bureau for Illegal Firearms Control and the Priority Violent Crime.

The units came into being after President Zuma announced the establishment of two specialised units within DPCI during the 2016 State of the Nation Address. The two units were set up to investigate national priority offences related to drugs and the proliferation of illegal firearms.

Major General Arendse explained that the units focused on:
- Criminal linkages through forensic practice
- Illegal firearm trafficking and networks
- Criminal abuse and vulnerability of firearms in state control (specifically in SAP13s)
- Criminality in the control of legal firearm stocks
- Targeted police killings
- Prioritised violent crime where firearms are used
He noted that these focus areas were decided based on firearm assessments and major investigations.

An interim capacity has been placed at National and Provincial level. DPCI together with the SAPS: Organisational Development, is in the process to optimise the capacity of the units. The briefing detailed the interim capacity of the unit however with more up to date statistics than contained in the presentation. The Eastern Cape had a capacity of 19, similar to the Free State which remained at 18. Gauteng's capacity of 55 had risen to 67 by the time of the briefing while KwaZulu-Natal had risen from 11 to 40. Mpumalanga and the North West both remained at 11. Northern Cape remained at 7 while the Western Cape was 26.

The successes of the units were explained with figures for arrests and firearm recovery from 1 March 2016 to 31 March 2017, broken down by individual province and then the overall national totals. Statistics were given for Quarter 1 of 2017/18 (1 April 2017 to the 30 June 2017) with the types of firearms being seen in violent crimes in the first quarter including 6 assault rifles, 23 pistols, 1 revolver and 2 rifles.

Command and control of the National Firearms Task Team was officially transferred from the Divisional Commissioner for Detective Services to the acting DPCI Head on 10 July 2017. DPCI is currently in the process of developing a National Joint Action Plan to operationalise and properly capacitate these units as parts of SAPS National Firearms Strategy. It is also in the process of implementing a permanent, approved structure however this has been delayed by requests from labour to be consulted before the structure is implemented. This consultation is currently being carried out so that the structure can be officially implemented with proper staffing of these units.

Mr A Shaik Emam (NFP) queried the conviction rates in comparison to the number of arrests in the briefing.

In response, General Arendse explained that convictions cannot be controlled within a specific financial year and therefore they may come from previous arrests out of the time period specified, meaning that there may be convictions taking place within a particular period which have not come from arrests taking place within that same period.

Mr Shaik Emam was concerned that the figures presented did not give a true reflection of the current situation as the Committee was interested in the progress between arrests and convictions. Therefore it is important to know how many convictions were made out of how many arrests.

Dr P Groenewald (FF+) requested that a separate report would need to be given on how many previous arrest cases had been brought over to the next financial year and how many convictions had been made on this.

The Chairperson asked if the units were currently up and running or if they were still in consultation. He was concerned about the statistics from the Western Cape on the number of firearms seized and arrests made within the period 1 April 2017 to 30 June 2017 which sat at zero. He asked if the figure were truly zero for the three months, how could this be considered success. What was the unit’s perspective on what was happening in the Western Cape and is there planning in place to deal with it?

Ms M Mmola (ANC) requested more information on the time frames for the National Joint Action Plan. She referenced the statistics for KZN on slide 9 and asked what had happened to the other arrests if the number of convictions was so low. Are these cases under investigation or have they been withdrawn?

Ms M Molebatsi (ANC) asked for more information on the National Firearms Strategy and for the reason that only 14 firearms had been recovered between March 2016 and March 2017 in Gauteng. Coming from Gauteng, she was aware of criminals boasting about the ability to buy firearms for just 50 Rand. Therefore why were so few firearms being recovered? She also asked for the reason for the low number or lack of convictions on slide 8.
Ms L Mabija (ANC) asked why the number of staff deployed in Limpopo on page 6 had only translated to 2 firearms and 2 arrests with no convictions or ammunition recovered according to slide 8. She asked if the statistics for Limpopo meant that there were very few illegal weapons on the ground or if in reality the statistics reflected staff incompetency. She questioned the accuracy of the report and asked for further explanation so that she could understand the current situation in her province of Limpopo.

Mr Z Mbhele (DA) noted the KZN breakdown of commissioned to non-commissioned officers appeared top heavy compared to other provinces where there is a much smaller figure for commissioned officers. He asked what the reasons for this were and why there was a need for so many more brigadiers and generals as part of the operation in KZN. He asked about the fixed establishment for the Illegal Firearms Control Unit more generally and what was the current total number of vacancies. Did the current number of vacancies plus the capacity figures in the presentation equal the fixed establishment? He asked if the Illegal Firearms Task Team will still remain intact within DPCI when the team is transferred from Detective Services to DPCI, or if those members would be absorbed into the Bureau? If the team does remain intact, what are the reasons for not absorbing it into the other unit assuming the operational objectives are the same? What is the distinction between the two?

Mr D Ryder (DA) thanked General Arendse for his presentation and expressed support and congratulations for the General’s work on getting the unit up and running. He queried if the figures presented were from before or after the unit’s establishment as arrest numbers before the unit was established might explain the low number of arrests. He asked about the reasons for the disparity between the number of arrests and number of convictions. Was the low number of convictions due to a lack of training of members, incorrect processes being followed after arrest, a lack of evidence gathered or is it perhaps an indictment on the slow justice process taking place? Further information on the process from the time a crime is committed to an arrest and then to a conviction would be useful. What were the reasons for the convictions that failed, is it due to gaps in the system or poor evidence being gathered? He highlighted the public perception that too many people are getting away with murder literally.

Mr P Mhlongo (EFF) was concerned about the temporary structure in place. He felt that the fact that it was temporary might have a negative psychological effect on the people manning those organs. How long would it take to put a permanent structure in place in DPCI? He was troubled by the mention of ongoing consultations with labour as the employer has the leeway to say that this is what we want done. Will labour move in only if certain material benefits are offered. Is labour going to be involved in the material aspects of putting in place the final structure? If so this could result in years without a structure being put into place. When is there likely to be a permanent structure in place that would be well connected to the chain of command? Mr Mhlongo spoke about firearms coming into KZN via the border with Mozambique and fuelling conflicts in the province. Previously there had been an initiative with Mozambique being the source of weapons post-war. Many of these weapons are still finding their way into KZN, particularly for the taxi wars. He expressed concern about the statistics for the Western Cape not reflecting the reality on the ground.

Mr Shaik Emam questioned why the national statistics had been given for 13 months and not 12 months. He highlighted that the statistics did not really represent a success, calling the performance represented in the statistics dismal. He queried what challenges SAPS is facing in terms of arrests and the delay in having these people brought to court and convicted. The statistics include convictions from arrests from previous years and therefore it was difficult to gage success if there are no statistics on the number of outstanding cases and why they are outstanding for long periods of time. It was important that the Committee receive these statistics. Working with the current statistics, conviction rates on the arrests per year are very poor. He did not think that there was a true understanding of how serious the problem in the Western Cape was. There are so many illegal firearms in the Western Cape but the performance of the unit is the worst. Whatever we are currently doing is not working so what can be done differently to combat the problem?

He acknowledged many of the problems in dealing with this including social economic problems, corruption, and the intimidation of SAPS officers. With these problems in mind, would bringing in the Defence Force to assist the police in the Western Cape townships be considered? This suggestion has been brought up before and dismissed as it was felt it might give the wrong message to the outside world. The negative perception of the South African crime rate already exists. Therefore could putting our people first be considered by bringing in the Defence Force? The issue of firearms needs to be looked at again because it is becoming a serious issue in South Africa. He asked General Arendse what he believed to be the challenges with firearms as most illegal firearms had been legal at some stage.

The Chairperson asked Lieutenant General Gary Kruser, representative for the Acting SAPS National Commissioner, for an update on the firearms amnesty as nothing had been heard in the three months since SAPS had come to the Committee. Could clarity be given on the reason for the delay?

Dr Groenewald emphasised that he believed the problem was not legal firearms but rather illegal firearms. People need firearms to protect themselves as it is quite clear that the police cannot protect the people. He expressed concern about the conviction rate. How is it possible that someone can be arrested for the possession of an illegal firearm but then not be convicted? Are the illegal firearms disappearing? He asked for a clear explanation on this as it otherwise seems as if there were a lot of unlawful arrests. He referred to slide 11, asking for more detail on the numbers of specific types of weapon seized, for example how many AK47s or R5s. If they are weapons issued to police officers or the Defence Force, from where do these firearms originate?

Prof C Msimang (IFP) asked if SAPS was winning the war on violent crime. He was aware that the units in question are newly established and therefore do not have much history but if the war is not being won then what needs to be done to change this? He stated the need for action as the current situation cannot go on with people living in fear. The Committee hears reports that state successes but when looking at the true outcomes these successes cannot be seen.

Mr J Maake (ANC) referenced the organogram and asked for further explanation. He queried if it was meant to be two units and if so how are they structured, or if there was just one unit dealing with everything?
General Arendse explained that members that have been deployed into this unit come from existing units, meaning that those capacities have been impacted which is a concern. The capacity of the units has been established but because of the structure, labour had a problem with the consultation process. The process has therefore been halted until there is a proper consultation with labour so that they have input into that. This meant that posts could not be advertised to get the required competencies into those posts which has created a dilemma. Once a structure has been approved, it will be possible to advertise posts and the current members who are in those posts will be retained but new members can be added with the required competencies. General Arendse explained that from his point of view we are not winning the war. In order to combat the problem, the response needs to be as a network, putting all of the resources into one integrated entity with the various capabilities and SAPS is currently working towards this.

The Chairperson expressed concern on hearing a DPCI senior member saying that we are not winning the war and that it was completely unacceptable. The attitude must be that we will deal with crime, and there must be the capacity and confidence to do so. He asked if it was still an interim structure because of the labour issues and if so, then the unit is not actually established at this point.

General Arendse responded that the unit does have capacity.

Ms Molebatsi was worried about the pace of the establishment of the unit. She explained that people are dying from firearms daily and the slow pace is very worrisome.
General Arendse stated that he had the confidence that the problem could be dealt with it but it requires the will, the coordination, and efforts of all concerned. This includes finalising the structure and getting the right people in posts.

The Chairperson asked how long the labour incident has been ongoing? Previous reports from March indicated that more progress had been made, suggesting that the process was near finalisation whereas today's presentation gives a very different picture.

Dr Groenewald appreciated General Arendse’s honesty, agreeing that we are not winning the war. He noted previous times that decisions had been made in the Committee however they were not implemented by the officers. He suggested that in order to deal with this, the Committee may need to take serious action against officers who failed to keep commitments made in front of the Committee. He asked for specific dates for the implementation.

General Arendse stated that he did not have all the relevant information with him as he was not part of that particular unit. The labour dispute arose a month or two ago between SAPS and labour about the structures and implementation of structures within particular divisions. There was a blanket decision that certain SAPS divisions would meet with labour to iron out the problems.

The Chairperson stated that the briefing could not go ahead until someone was properly briefed on all the issues as the meeting at present would not be productive.

Ms Mmola expressed her frustration at the lack of preparation. The issue has been going on for a year now and it seemed as though the Committee was not being taken seriously.

Ms Mabija expressed her disappointment because if the Committee had known in advance, it would not have allowed DPCI to make a presentation. DPCI is not committed to giving the facts that would make the Committee feel comfortable that DCPI is working.

Mr Shaik Emam agreed stating that it was quite clear why the war is not being won. He appreciated the honesty but the Committee needed all the facts. If the problem is with labour, questions on that matter by the Committee should have been anticipated. He requested that next time it should be made completely clear, exactly what the challenges are and what needs to be done to be in control of the situation, whether that involves labour, a particular officer or any other problem. This is essential so that the Committee can work together with them to find solutions. He requested information at the next presentation on how many of these firearms confiscated were firearms stolen from police stations or officers and which crimes were committed with them. Was there police contact or a link between the culprit of a crime and any police officers? How many of firearms stolen from SAPS, either from a station or an individual officer, were used in a crime?

Mr Groenewald supported the decision to stop the presentation. He stated the importance of hearing not only about the problems, but the solutions for any problems mentioned as well as specific time frames in future briefings. He noted the lack of faith in the crime statistics as what the figures say and what people experience is a different story.
Mr Mbhele acknowledged that DCPI is emerging from a difficult period of being under compromised leadership and mismanagement. He was sympathetic to those who were currently cleaning up this legacy and recognised that this had constrained their ability. He asked for clear and concrete answers for the questions asked but agreed with the decision to close the meeting.

Ms Mabija agreed to stop the meeting as the Committee could not expect any further answers when they have been told they are not winning the war. What had taken place today must not happen again as it was a waste of time and of no value to their communities.

General Kruser stated that they had been given the task to look at the proliferation of firearms, specifically around the Western Cape. There is currently an attempt to salvage that project after the removal of two generals. There needs to be an integrated approach when the police are dealing with firearms but the National Firearms Task Team has been established and it will be at national level as well as at provincial levels. There is an action plan for this with both the police and DPCI.

The Chairperson insisted that both SAPS and DPCI must return but the Committee does not accept any position that the fight against crime is being lost. The war must be won against crime. It is the second highest budget in government and there must be the commitment required in order to win the war as well as the leadership challenge and perhaps leadership is the issue. The post of SAPS National Commissioner must be filled as soon as possible. Acting positions do not help, we need permanent people who can lead with the confidence that we will win the fight against crime. It was not acceptable to come to the Committee with half-baked solutions or presentations. SAPS and the DPCI must come back within the next two weeks.

The meeting was adjourned.


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