Policing should be a craft. It should be about the safety of citizenry. It should be about law and order. Police officers should not be fundraisers or revenue officers. There is zimra and other revenue authorities for that. While part of the job of law enforcement does include the enforcement of fines on those that are found on the wrong side of the law, it should not be the be-all-end-all of their role.
When it is done, it should also be done sensitively and transparently in order to maintain support of the community. The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has lost the support of the community because of both corruption and focus on revenue raising instead of their primary constitutional function. And in some cases the use of hard-edged power instead of soft power.
IN THE NEWS: ZRP
This writer witnessed examples of police excesses on a recent visit to Zimbabwe. At the corner of Julius Nyerere Way and Kwame Nkrumah Avenue there are is a taxi rank. Police officers wait for anyone who drives onto Kwame Nkurumah without obeying a hidden stop sign. It is hidden because it is not by the road. It is in the taxi rank. And which reckless driver drives in town reading stop signs in taxi ranks? Wouldn’t that be called “Driving Without Due Care”? To make matters worse, the road is just a pavement with no markings or the line to stop before crossing. The police know this, that’s why they lay their trap there. Yet the purpose of a Stop sign is to prevent crashes by controlling an uncontrolled junction. If then the police realise that a particular Stop sign will never be seen by a motorist, why don’t they ask the local authorities to correct the anomaly so as to preserve life and property? Instead they lie waiting to literally fleece motorists.
When the nation talks of creative policing they are not asking for this Nigerian 419 Scheme. The same applies to many speed traps which they know motorists will never see the sign of because it is either invisible behind bushes many kilometres away strategically placed to avoid motorist detection.
A speed restriction is meant to protect people because the road has hazards or is unsafe or there are animals or children who would pose a hazard or are at risk.
Therefore if the motorists cannot see the sign it means life is being placed in danger.
That sign should be made more visible and even more need to be added so if one misses the first they see the subsequent ones. Why is this not being done but instead a permanent speed trap is put in place?
This is a question the increasingly cynical public will not get an answer to. And what’s with the 10 police check points on the short distance from Budiriro to the CBD and yet the police takes more than 48 hours to attend to emergencies such as burglary or mugging?
In those cases one is told to go back and gather witnesses and bring them, then make a report. Wait a minute! What then is an investigation? Isn’t it the gathering of witnesses and evidence?
Is the public being asked to investigate their own cases because the police are busy “hustling” from the motorists?
Is it a shock when the citizen then circulates a video of a police officer clinging for dear life on to the back of a fleeing kombi and eventually falls off and is nearly crushed by another vehicle that passes with laughing passengers without stopping to help?
Is it any wonder when most of those that viewed the video did not find it wrong that a citizen did not stop when ordered to stop by the police?
When the police are orderly, they become the darling of the community they serve.
When they are disorderly and throw wheel shredding spike or stingers under wheels of a motorist, endangering dozens of passengers and others as well as causing thousands of dollars in damage to the vehicle for the traffic infringement of refusing to pay a bribe, they lose the support of the community they serve. How can the police gain the support of the community when they are perceived as corrupt and the major law breakers? To enforce the law, the police should obey the law.
The ZRP need to modernise their methods of policing and not these archaic policing methods the public is witnessing. Some contend that the only modern thing about the Zimbabwe Republic Police are the vehicles used by their seniors. Everything else is out of date and out of sync with the expectation of a modern society.
We also have to note that police are just members of the public who are being paid to do what most members of the public would do for free to bring order to their community or neighbourhood. That’s why we have members of the neighbourhood watch who are not paid.
The policeman should be viewed as a thinking professional. They are not some personal militia for a powerful commander, Inspector General or Commissioner General somewhere. They are there for the republic through serving the public. It appears there is no strategic utilisation of resource or sophisticated investigative techniques. The idea of beating a confession out of an individual is antiquated and only done by those who cannot think.
Police need operational assistance from the public and community but they are turning themselves into objects of public hate. Not because the public now comprises mainly criminals. But because the police are the ones now viewed as criminals in uniform.
The ZRP does not appear to have a culture of dealing with a broad variety of issues which afflict community peace. They fail as a proactive force. They fail dismally as a reactive force. The police used to get free lifts from members of the public. This is going to remain a rare thing now unless they change their mindset.
If the police are meant to be representatives of governmental authority, this force is failing.
The Government is surely not about haemorrhaging the public and erosion of confidence in the public institutions. It is not about law and disorder.
For this is what our police force seems to be about. Government is about the citizen first, second and third and everything else is further down the pecking order.
Yet one sees some police officer menacingly brandishing truncheons with which to smash windscreens. The authority of the police should not be in the violence they can mete out. It should be about how much confidence they can invoke in members of the public.
For how can one work with the police when they wantonly smash a vehicle one bought by selling all that was theirs anticipating a good return?
The ZRP will never be able to manage their negative perception and bad image unless they are held accountable for their professional performance or lack of same.
They have a constitutional role, they need to respect the community; they need to respect individuals. That includes starting from such trivial salutations like calling members of the public as Sir or Madam.
The issue of salutational appellations might seem mundane but there is an embedded reminder in there that the police are there to serve the public and they are the servants of the public.
Why is it that every other sector is emphasising customer satisfaction and the police do not see a value in that?
One of the roles of the police is to provide emergency assistance in social crisis.
Their role is not to create a social crisis, escalate criminal activity and whipping negative public sentiment.
Bad policing is when the police are found to be intimidating by its citizens. When the individual feels that their freedoms, yes that freedom for which some never returned, that freedom for which blood was shed, that freedom which came with Independence, when it is being trampled upon by whatever excesses, it is the police who should be at the forefront of making sure that it is re-asserted. But do they? Most of the time, they are at the forefront of trashing it.
The ZRP needs to re-establish its integrity as a police force for the people and with the people; a force for the vulnerable and the weak. Not a force which is struggling to establish its legitimacy despite it being a constitutional product. How difficulty is it to uphold the law whilst protecting the rights of citizens?
Is there some contradiction in this? The public is not looking for some public relations or PR gimmickry.
It is looking for real change in attitude from those who are meant to be their protectors. This nauseating reputation of being very cruel should be cleaned up.
It is a police for the republic and it needs to build better working relationships with the population. Its officers come from the community, they live in the community, they are part of the community. The badge should be worn honourably.