Last week I talked about some of the structural changes that I firmly believe are needed if the SAPS has any hope continuing its existence. The article inspired a great deal of debate, and some good and combative feedback. Indeed, many of my erstwhile colleagues branded me a traitor for daring to say that the organization all of us stood for is dying. That is the price of reality. And whilst I am sorry they feel that way, I will not blind myself to the truth. In a similar vein the SAPS in its current iteration must rank as one of the poorest-equipped law enforcement organizations in the world. From clunky body armor to obsolete restraining devices, the general SAPS member more readily portrays the Keystone Cops than a modern law enforcer.
There are many reasons for this sad state of affairs, but mainly it’s attitude. There is this overwhelming outlook from the SAPS middle management that what was good for them thirty years ago, when they last worked operationally, must still be good for the cops today. Any effort to modernize, even by self-purchase, ensures that the member is branded as “GV”, or “Tacticool”, or an upstart. Yes, I have even heard senior officers say that the reason we don’t follow an overseas-based example, is because they don’t have our threat spectrum. Somehow ISIS bullets don’t hit as hard as those from an armed robber. In a nutshell, it is pure laziness with a strong side-helping of arrogance that leads the SAPS specifically to where they currently are.
So, again following the trends of the time, allow me to appoint myself the Minister of Police. However, unlike Mr Fearfokkol, I hope to impart some reality regarding the situation and improve the lot of the average police officer.
Firstly, the sidearm. Yes, the pistol. I know deep down in my heart that so many have been waiting for me to say the G-word, either so they can feel vindicated or so that they can jump all over this. Get ready. Wait for it. I would absolutely insist that the police move onto a modern, polymer-framed pistol. No doubt in my mind. From training, to maintenance, to usability – I would argue that this has every single advantage over the current set-up. In terms of the type: well, I would not advocate for a single platform. Rather I would suggest a selection of firearms which the member could purchase. Yep, you heard me. I said “purchase”.
Once finished with their basic training, where they would be exposed to and have the opportunity to train with each of the range of firearms available, I would provide the member with a voucher allowing them to go to the gun shop and purchase their firearm. This would then be licensed to their name, following the same process that the current civilian firearm owner follows. I would then over a reasonable period of time deduct the voucher price from the members salary. This concept of purchasing would invest the member into the upkeep and value of the asset, and build in systemic responsibility for its safekeeping.
So what would the range be? Well, to my mind it would consist of the current Beretta PX series: it is a great option which ticks all the boxes. Then the Glock, specifically the Glock 26, Glock 19 and Glock 17: there is nothing I need to say more, it is proven and is the benchmark of police sidearms. Aside from the Glock, I would certainly look at the Smith and Wesson M&P series. Lastly, I would bring in the option of the CZ P10 series of pistols.
Along with pistols we should include holsters. There is nothing that sucks more than a SAPS-issue holster. It has to rank as one of the worst pieces of equipment a police officer receives, except for maybe the awful Fuel boots. I mean, is it so difficult for the logistics people to look at G Code, CR Speed, or Safariland and understand that leather el cheapos no longer have a place in modern policing? Alas, the “in my day” monster strikes again. Of course, with decent holsters go decent belt kit. Again, you can go CR Speed for that local touch, and Safariland more than meets the benchmark standards of what a duty rig should be.
Aside from holsters, let’s look at the less-than-lethal component. Yes, the gun play an important role. But any cop uses the less-lethal elements far, far more than he or she goes bang-bangitty-bang. Again, the SAPS loves the whole equipping-from-the-museum shtick, and they still firmly believe that the tonfa is just dandy for modern policing. They look past the fact that outside of POPs no-one carries them. Because they are impractical and they suck. So, it’s expandable batons, indeed ASPs or Monadnocks, all around. Because unlike the current lot, I actually believe that members’ lives are valuable enough to spend money on.
Now, I could unpack the belt kit more, and speak about decent handcuffs, but to be fair the ones in current use are pretty good. I would definitely issue out more of the plasticuffs (zipties), and decent uniform and boots. There are huge opportunities for improvement in those spaces. Similarly in the communications space. I also know the logisticians, senior managers, and purchasing officers are aware of this, because I have seen them at the various trade shows, enjoying the benefits, laden with swag as the stagger from one vendor freebie to the next. Therefore, I know they know about this. I also know that most of the readers want to hear about my opinion on the weapons, so I will unpack some suggestions on these in future writings.
The next weapon system that I would return, with alacrity to every single vehicle patrolling outside, is the 12 gauge pump-action shotgun. Yes indeed: the most versatile and adaptable weapon in the arsenal. Yet the current management think of it as only able of being used to shoot baton rounds, and it should only be used by POPs. Vexing, I know. And for once I cannot blame the “in my day” monster. Rather I blame the horrendous practice of SAPS firearms instructors who sadistically go out of their way to expose new shooters to powerful recoil, whilst intentionally showing them poor techniques. They like to call it “teaching the hard way”, but its just stupid sadism. Sadism which has ensured that any decision maker will only recall the pain of some arrogant instructor showing him or her how to use the thing badly, instead of understanding its full value. I would definitely look at a platform better than the Beretta or Musler, with its silly and ill-thought-out loading sequence, and go to the efficacy and simplicity of Mossberg, Remington or Winchester. Additionally, I would ensure that the members could leverage the full spectrum of ammunition ranging from bean bag and baton, to buckshot and slugs, as appropriate.
Now, for some more unpopular changes. The R5 – the 5.56mm rifle I would issue only to rural units or stations. In fact, my preference would actually be for a 7.62mm rifle in that role, and to my mind this is best represented by the FN SCAR. But I am flexible on this. For all urban stations I would maintain it on units, and with designated supervisors or marksmen (and women). Not because I believe it is a “death rifle” (or whatever moniker GFSA wants to throw at it), but rather because I believe that urban policing carbines are far more efficient in the small pistol caliber carbine platform. Personally I favour the MP5, but a SIG MPX, a CZ Scorpion, or similar would all suit the task of being that great urban police carbine. Additionally, I would secure decent optics to leverage the full performance. So, alongside the 12 gauge, the 9mm carbine would have a place in every patrol car. With either a 5.56 or 7.62 rifle being available to specifically tasked units and personnel members.
Now, I know everyone who disagrees is champing at the bit to make comments, and I look forward to them. I also realize that I have not spoken about training yet: I do have some strong ideas on that, and will unpack those next week.
Written by Bryan Mennie.
Bryan is a professional risk and crisis manager. He has taught kidnap avoidance and hostage survival to various international organizations, and has managed protective and security operations in over twenty countries in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Additionally Bryan spent 18 years in the South African Police Service. You can follow him on Twitter.