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Making the police a 'humane' service

Staff Writer
The Botswana National Front says in its 2009 election manifesto that upon assuming power it will tackle police brutality by teaching officers to be 'humane.'

The implication is clear; that under the Botswana Democratic Party government, the training of police does not make them humane enough. As a matter of fact, the BNF's secretary general, Mohammad Khan, says as much.

"There are instances when police bully and brutalise people," Khan says.

What a BNF future government will do, he adds, is educate police officers on the genesis of crime as a social malady and in that way enable them to reach a deeper appreciation of the criminal mentality and assist in rehabilitating them. Khan says that the current system has not managed to impress that upon officers, and that explains why some officers are inclined to bully and brutalise members of the public.

"Right now, the police and members of the public are in opposing camps. In a BNF government, police will be taught to treat people in a more humane manner," Khan says.

The precise wording in the manifesto is as follows: "The police shall be taught to be humane and that the purpose of crime detection and apprehension of offenders is not revenge but to reform, rehabilitate and reintegrate these offenders into our society".
There is no epidemic of police brutality and Botswana can hardly be called a police state, but there are instances when some officers overstep the mark.

In 2005, Echo photographer, Kabo Mpaetona, was nabbed by the Mochudi traffic police near Bokaa village for driving at 100 kilometres an hour in an 80km/h zone. Instead of giving him a ticket, the police sought punishment that would benefit them personally. For their entertainment, they ordered Mpaetona to do a parade-like march before finally letting him go.

Some of the entertainment that wayward officers seek can be dastardly and costly to the nation. The worst incident in recent memory is of a joint patrol team of soldiers and special constables in Ramotswa that supervised a forced-sex orgy with the aid of high-powered machine guns. The victims were migrant Zimbabwean men and women.

The enforcement of the new liquor regulations has also brought out the worst in some officers. In the same village of Ramotswa, a local youth recalls his own encounter with a patrol team late at night. He says that he was walking home with a friend some minutes after spending some time at a neighbourhood bar. Rather than drink up inside, the pair decided to finish their last beers on the way home. They had only gone a short distance when an army-police patrol team in an army jeep pounced on them. The boys pleaded with the officers to pardon their indiscretion and in what appeared to be a show of mercy, the boys were given three options.

The first was 'getting in the V8', the second was 'downing your beer like you would a glass of water' and the third was 'emptying out your beer cans onto the

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ground'.

Fortunately, the storytellers' friend was a repeat offender who had been nabbed four days earlier by law enforcers earlier for the same offence. He knew that all options but the second are in code.

Getting in the V8 means doing not just that but also riding along with the patrol team until early morning when the shift ends. Option Three requires the offender to empty out his can by pouring the beer into his trousers' pocket, thereby soaking the trousers and wetting one's leg.

Edwin Batshu, the former Commissioner of Police and Botswana Democratic Party parliamentary candidate for North East concedes that there are police officers who behave badly. However, he hastens to add that talking about isolated incidents of misconduct is unhelpful because generally officers are a good law-abiding lot.

He outrightly dismisses the BNF's assertion about the police not being humane enough by arguing that the reason Botswana is a successful democracy is because the police are well-behaved.

Batshu, who spent decades in the police service rising from constable to commissioner, says that contrary to what the BNF implies, police officers are taught to be as civil as possible towards members of the public.

The advent of special constables and soldiers into civilian policing is a bone of contention. While police officers are intensively trained for a full year, special constables are only 'stir-fried' for two weeks at the police college in Otse before being let out onto the streets. The inadequacy of the training shows in the attitude of some of them.

Batshu himself says that he "can confess that the training of special constables is inadequate". The programme started under his leadership and he says that its implementation experienced some teething problems. The intention was that special constables would patrol alongside police officers but that proved easier said than done.

There is now a situation where special constables patrol the streets without the guidance of properly trained officers.

Likewise, the use of soldiers in civilian policing when they have not been specially trained for that task has raised eyebrows. Batshu says that in terms of the constitution, every citizen is supposed to participate in crime prevention. Against such background, he sees soldiers as valuable assets. The Police Act empowers the Commissioner of Police to enlist the support of non-police officers to assist in the crime prevention effort and it is under this dispensation that soldiers patrol streets alongside police officers.

Batshu says that the guidelines under which soldiers participate in civilian policing are provided by the commissioner.

In the past couple of years, the police department has undertaken a comprehensive rebranding exercise. It changed its name from Botswana Police Force to Botswana Police Service and renamed charge offices 'community service centres.

'If the name used in the BNF manifesto has any significance, there may be a 'National Police Service' signpost farther down the road.



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