Cape Town – Police are in a catch-22 situation involving a mammoth national firearms investigation, because if they link stolen police guns to shootings, they could be held liable for the crimes.
Senior Western Cape policeman Major-General Jeremy Vearey, involved in the guns probe, outlines this dilemma in an affidavit.
A booklet, written by one of the police’s legal experts, titled Back to Basics – Towards a Safer Tomorrow, also says so.
According to the booklet: “The scope of the possible litigation is enormous, should the deceased have been breadwinners and were either killed or injured leading to present and future medical costs, pain, as well as a lost [sic] of income.”
It also highlights glaring loopholes in firearm controls in the country, including apparently poor processes involving how guns are meant to be destroyed by police.
Vearey, in his affidavit, said police “ignored this sound legal advice”.
However, in response to several of Vearey’s allegations, the police in an affidavit said they did not propose “to get drawn into a details response to operational matters which took place subsequent to the impugned decisions”.
It said that Vearey’s “prudence in ventilating these issues in this application is seriously questioned”.
The national firearms investigation has uncovered, among other things, that some police officers were stealing guns from a police store and channelling the weapons to gangsters.
At least 1 066 murders were carried out with stolen police guns and 216 children in the Western Cape were shot with these weapons.
The investigation into gun smuggling was named Project Impi and started out as a Western Cape probe in 2013, but went on to expand to a national one involving military intelligence.
It was also probing whether right wing groups were stockpiling firearms to be used against the state.
It was previously headed by Vearey and Major-General Peter Jacobs.
When they were suddenly transferred within the police in June 2016 – moves which they felt were unfair and politically motivated – they say the mammoth investigation was effectively derailed.
On Thursday, August 3, the Cape Town Labour Court set their transfers aside.
National police said on Friday that the judgment would be studied before comment on it was provided.
Vearey, in an affidavit used in the matter, said police were duty bound to solve crimes committed with the stolen police guns.
‘SAPS is compromised’
However, he said the police found themselves in a catch-22 situation
“The SAPS has an obligation to solve these crimes and prevent more crimes involving use of these firearms. However, SAPS is now compromised,” he said.
“It has a duty to link the stolen firearms ballistically to murders committed with them. Should SAPS carry out this duty, it will prove its own civil liability to inhabitants of South Africa who are killed or injured by these firearms.”
Vearey said he and Jacobs had conducted investigations into the guns “as part of national security.
“They were covert and undercover… Certain protocols were involved that could not be otherwise replicated.”
But after their transfers, he said the methodology of the probe changed.
Gang ‘killing season’
Vearey said most gang killings happened at the beginning of spring.
“The reason is that the major flow of drugs into the Western Cape rises in December. Before this happens, the gangs compete to settle their turf…
“Gang wars and killing of members of the public then ensues.”
He said there could be no doubt that SAPS had been “alerted to their previous shortcoming and that they are increasing their potential liability for unlawful and negligent death and injury of members of the public caused by the stolen firearms”.
Vearey referred to a booklet, written by Major-General PC Jacobs, of the police’s legal services.
Poor firearm controls
It said SAPS was duty bound to ensure stolen firearms in the hands of criminals were retrieved as soon as possible, and that “all steps” be taken to prevent the same corruption from happening
The booklet said there were no details and clear national instructions prescribed for how police were to destroy firearms.
“Firearms were kept outside supply chain management in locked crates.”
Designated firearm officers were also not distributed equally – the Western Cape was overstaffed, while Gauteng was understaffed.
“The importation of deactivated firearms seems to be problematic as well, in respect of criteria and monitoring… This is especially the case with Eastern European weapons, which can be easily altered to be functional again,” the booklet said.
“The issue that Glock pistols, AK-47 semi-automatic variants can be changed through components obtained via the internet… to fire fully automatic or in bursts must be investigated.”
It provided recommendations from ex-police colonel Chris Prinsloo, now serving a jail sentence, who previously said he had sold at least 2 000 firearms to Rondebosch businessman Irshaad “Hunter” Laher, who allegedly paid him to steal guns meant for destruction.
The booklet said Prinsloo recommended that a dedicated facility to destroy firearms be created in each province.
“This must be manned by trained and experienced members who are properly vetted and before appointment agree to be polygraphed as often as required.”