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A case for the cops

KGOSIETSILE NGAKAAGAE
I am reminded of one morning, in my civil service years. Sitting in my office, I got instant orders to board a car for Sejelo Police Station. It was at the height of the Kalafatis and Setampoloka socio-political tensions and the police were weary of criticism. My assignment was to bear witness to whatever remained of the suspected Kanye serial killer.

After the pathologist had ordered that the man be cut down I sat down with a police team for a briefing. I was humbled by the tireless effort invested in solving the gruesome murders that had enveloped that village with terror, leaving a peaceful nation in a state of shock and utter confusion. Bricks Mokoti, the suspect, was dead; but not before five or so innocent people had been raped and bludgeoned to death in cold blood.

Somehow I wished it would be the last such incident. Some occurrences engrave themselves in one’s memory and compel oneself to reconsider settled assumptions about the times they live in; the safety of family, and society as a whole. Sadly, no one can divine what the womb of futurity holds. We can only hope and pray. As the nation debates complex questions of morality and rights, there will always be forces pulling it down the precipice. When such time come, it is to the police that we turn for answers.

I had occasion, at some point in my civil service years, to train with law enforcement officers on some key areas. We covered a wide variety of subjects touching on modern day crime challenges. It was a great programme, offered by the Americans in collaboration with our government. I came out convinced, then, that we were far behind in terms of resources and technical competencies required to effectively answer sophisticated crime. Often, our police investigations do not go beyond the recording of statements. In an age of 3D models and computer graphics our sketch plans are still drawn freehand on printing paper. In an age of cybercrime, the average detective is not trained in electronic evidence, its preservation and presentation. In an age of advanced forensics, serious cases often hang on the sheer credibility of witnesses. True, some progress has been made with regards to the enhancement of law enforcement competencies. One can’t help wishing though, that more would be done. The police are the defenders of our constitutional order. An investment in them would be a direct investment in our democracy.

I am no stranger to police woes. Just recently, I was doing a police disciplinary case whereof there had been only one police vehicle servicing one major village and neighbouring settlements. I can recall instances from back in the days when investigations delayed due to inadequate transport and witnesses could not be subpoenaed or collected on time for the same reason.

The forensic analysis of

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exhibits takes forever due to backlog problems. In their day to day investigative duties, investigators do not get the advantage of hotel accommodation, an entitlement other civil servants have come to take for granted. Promotions are often long coming, if they come at all. I met an officer, once, who had been a constable for more than ten years and he had no disciplinary record. When put on interdiction, they are put on half salary, treatment not extended to other civil servants. Their salaries are pitiable and many are in perpetual debt.  It is high time we acknowledge, through better working conditions, the role that the police service plays in national development. After all, these are the people who do all the dirty work. They recover decomposed corpses and children abandoned in pit latrines. They stand all day in court, assailed by hostile lawyers, witnesses and magistrates. They keep our roads safe and are continually on the line of fire. They attend to national disasters and emergencies. At the end of it all, they limp home in despair to brood over the sad fate that is a police career. In many countries, it is an honor to serve as a police officer. In ours, deplorable working conditions make the service a place of last resort.

I know, because I have many friends and clients among them. Besides, I have worked with and still work with them. The average constable is sad, poverty stricken and malnourished; not out of choice or lack of life skills, but out of institutionalized destitution.

There is need for a change of attitude on the part of government with regards to the police service on the one hand and its personnel on the other. We are already grappling with a cocktail of challenges ranging from money laundering, human trafficking, corruption, terrorism financing, illegal firearms, white collar crime, Satanism and drug cartels. Our diplomatic positions and close relationships with friends ever draw us close to gruesome realities we are only accustomed to seeing on CNN. Our survival depends on our ability to meet those challenges head on by instrument of a competent police service.

There is an urgent need to grow police competencies and to improve their working conditions. Improving the police service is linked to but is not synonymous with improving the officer. Beautiful buildings, tennis courts and helicopters are essential but they are no substitute to training, better salaries and dignified working conditions for officers.



Chief On Friday

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