Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Trigger-Happy Police Service

The Ghana Police Service, according to its boss is one of the best in the world. No doubt the Police has chalked-up successes in their bid to maintain law and order in the country. In fact, the professionalism and tacit approach by the Police in handling dicey and volatile situations have come up for mention at different fora. For instance, the preparedness and alertness exhibited by the Police in the just gone-by election petition has trumped-up their image in the eyes of the public. Sad to say however, recent developments in policing seem to be eroding the achievements of the Service. Several shooting incidents in Accra and parts of the country involving personnel of the Service have portrayed the police as a trigger-happy bunch of people who exploit their fire power to unleash fear and terror on criminals and innocent citizens alike. Recently, government had to cough-up a whooping forty--two thousand Ghana Cedis as compensation to the family of one Stephen Danomah, formerly of the Central University College in Accra, after the courts accepted that he was negligently shot by Police Constable Felix Asante some five years ago. Constable Asante was subsequently dismissed by the Service. One thought the Police would have taken a cue from that, having incurred such a huge debt for government to pay following negligence from one of their own. But no, the situation rather seems to have assumed distressing dimensions. Some few months ago, residents at Mallam Atta in Accra expressed disgust at what they called an unprovoked attack on three men alleged to be armed robbers. The three were controversially shot and killed by the Police near a popular pub in the area inspite of protestations by people around that they were not robbers and were not armed. Worse of all, the three were reported to have surrendered willingly and placed their hands on their heads but instead of exercising the first option of arrests, the Police instead smoked their lives out of them. Just last month, the Police were again in the news for another shooting incident, this time an innocent father at Michel Camp, who according to eye-witnesses, was mistaken for an armed robber and gunned down. Unfortunately, the Police later said the car was rather involved in an accident, angering the public for trying to hide the truth. And as if all these were not enough the Police recently turned the guns on themselves when two officers lost their lives at Gomoa Pomadze near Winneba Junction when they were shot by a patrol team responding to a distress call. The two officers were driving to the hospital after one of them was injured by robbers but the patrol team inadvertently mistook them for the escaping robbers, pursued them and fired at them, killing them on the spot. Now the often repeated question on the lips of many is whether all these needless deaths could not have been avoided if the Police is lately not becoming trigger-happy? For some yes but for others, they just may be attributed to fate.

Experts believe the orientation of some of the young officers leave much to be desired. Having just come out of training and passed out, some of them delight in flaunting the gun before defenceless civilians, as if to show them where power lies. But does power lie in the bosom of our cops or the institutions that is supposed to guard their activities? The Police Intelligence and Professional Standards, (PIPS), indeed, has a difficult task to re-orient deviant cops. Some of the shootings that have taken place really raise important concerns about Police accountability. Some personnel are not in tune with modern trends in policing and are not learning from experience and need to be kicked to the touch. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, (CHRI), has in the recent past carpeted the Police for often acting in ways that did not conform to established standards of professional conduct. The CHRI believes the absence of a public complaints Authority as recommended by the Archer Committee to deal with Police misconduct and high-handedness, had allowed some Cops to act with impunity. In most advanced countries, Police Officers are not even allowed to carry fire arms because of suspected abuse. They are only allowed arms in extreme situations. Recent developments on the Police front probably calls for a replication of this. The Police have come up for praise on numerous occasions for tackling armed robbery head-on. What is hazy at the moment is how the service will try to find a balance in all these unfortunate incidents so that while they are lashed for misusing the power of the gun, they will equally get some plaudits for using the gun properly. Indeed, the problem is a hydra-headed one and needs a careful appraisal to solve. Having said that, the killings, whether unfortunate or deliberate had gone on ad nauseam and the quicker it is halted, the better and safer we will all be as we step out of our homes each day and night.


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