Appreciate and respect the police but hold them accountable

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Madi Jobarteh is a Gambian human rights activist

Let me repeat, the vast majority of the citizens of the Gambia appreciate and respect the men and women of the Gambia Police Force. I am sure this is a fact that many police officers would attest in their daily interactions with citizens. The police are an indispensable necessity and the majority of police officers are hardworking men and women who are committed to their work as they should, professionally and efficiently.

In their line of duty police officers face clear and direct danger yet they execute their functions to the best of their ability without favour or ill will, for or against any individual. They simply want to enforce the law and then go back home to their families. Hence it is also in the interest of each ad every citizen to respect and cooperate with the police. In fact, a citizen who abides by the law is a police officer of his or her own since by abiding by the law that citizen is in fact enforcing the law.

The law that the Gambia Police enforce are the laws that protect our rights. The Police Act states that the general duty of the police is to preserve law and order, to protect property, to prevent and detect crime and to apprehend and prosecute offenders. When there is law and order it means there is safety for all such that citizens’ rights, life and properties are safe and secure.

Anytime crime occurs it means an injury to our life, property and safety. Hence anyone protecting our lives, properties and safety means that person or entity is indeed protecting our human rights. This is why to me the police are the foremost and immediate human rights protector in society! As citizens this is how we should perceive the police,

At the same time the police must also perceive themselves as human rights defenders at all times. This means the police themselves must not break the law. For example, if the police arrest a suspect, not matter the gravity of the crime committed by that suspect, the police must not torture that person in anyway. This is because torture constitutes a damage to life and liberty hence a violation of human rights. The police must not do that!

For that matter our men and women in law enforcement must educate themselves adequately about their role and function and create the necessary structures, tools and processes to ensure that they combat crime without having to cause harm to both the victims and the perpetrators of crime. This is the only way the police can guarantee the trust and confidence of the public hence enhance the cooperation of citizens in the fight against crime.

Yes, no one likes criminals especially if one is a victim. We are always happy when we hear the police have apprehended criminals. But we will all harm ourselves if we allow the police to manhandle suspects just because we think they are criminals. The laws of the Gambia are such that they favour the police more than the criminal. Hence the police have no need to fuss since the law is always on their side. Therefore, let the police uphold the law and enjoy the continued appreciation of citizens.

To enable the police to uphold the law effectively and enjoy public trust and cooperation, it is necessary that the police review themselves. This means the police need to re-organize, renew and rebrand itself in all ways. For example, it is necessary that police officers act professional and disciplined at all times when they deal with citizens no matter how rudely an individual acted towards them or what crime was committed. The police officer is expected to be a well-trained professional to contain difficult persons or challenging situations.

Secondly it is pertinent that the police appear professional in their comportment, i.e.  to be neat and tidy in uniform and attitude. They should put on proper uniforms with visible identification tags for all to see. Our police officers in uniform should not be smoking in public. Our traffic officers should not be texting or speaking on phone while in the middle of the traffic. Police officers must not be seen cursing or quarrelling with citizens. Above all our police officers must not be begging or extorting money from people.

Furthermore, it is necessary that the police adopt smart strategies and tactics in combating crime. To use the same old crude and blunt methods will only undermine the trust and image of the police in the eyes of citizens. For that matter it is necessary that there is lot more investment into law enforcement with modern gadgets for detection and investigation of crime. Our police officers need constant refresher training.

To enhance better police and civilian relations the police must do away with old and crude forms of policing such as mounting checkpoints indiscriminately all over the country. Criminals know where checkpoints are hence it is every easy for them to avoid the checkpoints. This is why hardly would the police intercept illicit materials at checkpoints. Foe example I always see trucks and certain vehicles avoid the checkpoint in front of Bottrop school in Kembujeh by branching off into the community to circumvent the checkpoint only to enter the highway again after the checkpoint!

In the absence of checkpoints what the police therefore need to do is to enhance their intelligence capabilities. Without effective and innovative intelligence tools and skills no security institution will be able to do its work well. Hence the intelligence facilities and capabilities of the police must be developed so as to detect crimes. Criminals use intelligence hence the police must also use intelligence.

Talking about modern gadgets and methods of policing, it is necessary that the Police create and popularise a hotline such as 911 as in other countries. But it is not also enough to create such a hotline when there are no proper vehicles that can respond immediately to the call. This is why if the Government is interested in ensuring a safe and secure society it must indeed invest heavily into the Gambia Police Force. Such investment must not only be about working conditions and tools but also about the welfare of police officers such as their salaries, living quarters and transportation among others must be enhanced.

Community policing has been a longstanding program of the Gambia Police Force however this program remains weak and not effectively implemented. It is necessary that community policing is well funded and supported. Ultimately the fight against crime cannot be done by the police all alone. Community police is the idea that by working with the members of the community the police will be able to contain crime more effectively. In fact, community policing concept holds that sometimes crime is caused by the social and economic conditions of an individual and not necessary because individuals are violent or vicious. This means some crimes are best solved through mediation within the community and not by going to court.

Above all our police must uphold the standards of the law. For example, there are standard procedures to arrest and detain. These standards need to be enforced at all times so as to ensure that there is no abuse. Secondly our Constitution stipulates that no one should be detained by the police beyond 72 hours. This must be respected too at all times. In respecting this constitutional requirement, it is also necessary that the police avoid subjecting people to unnecessary bail or reporting routinely to the station. Through bail and reporting we have realised that a lot of abuse also takes place hence further undermining the public trust and appreciation of the police.

Finally, it is urgently necessary that the Ministry of Interior and the Gambia Police Force review the Police Act. For example, when you look at the name ‘Gambia Police Force’ in itself you will realise that this is not supposed to be a friendly entity because of the word, ‘Force’. The police are not a ‘force’ rather they are a service. Force is about power and violence. Our police are providing a service to citizens by protecting our rights and saving our lives and property. Therefore, the need to change the name itself is urgent because sometimes names can influence people to act accordingly.

A well-disciplined and effective police service is in the national interest. It is what each and every citizen need. While we appreciate the police, we must at the same time hold them accountable to ensure that they do not exceed their powers to the point of damaging our rights. Let’s recognise, appreciate and respect our police. The vast majority of these officers are indeed among the best sons and daughters of the Gambia. But let the police also abide by the law at all times. #RespectandAppreciateThePolice

For the Gambia Our Homeland

2019-07-30T10:56:07+00:00

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