By KABS KANU :
While we do not want to prejudice the Police investigations going on, we think that the issue of police brutality and the dysfunctional Police/Community relations should be seriously looked into with a view to curbing the unfortunate incidents of the killing of members of the public by the very force statutorily tasked to protect lives and property in the country.
Since he came to power in 2007, President Ernest Koroma has committed lots of resources and demonstrated commendable commitment towards the goal of making the Sierra Leone Police the professional force it is supposed to be. Under the Government’s Security Sector Reform ( SSR ) , the Police has not only been restructured but provided with top-flight training , while structures were put in place to build the capacity of the Force and also improve the conditions of service of cops in the country. More officials have been sent abroad for training and the Police is enviably now one of the institutions with a good number of well-educated personnel, including degree-holders.
The Government’s efforts were also blessed by initiatives from the United States, Britain, the Commonwealth, the UNDP, China and Nigeria , all designed to build a Police Force in Sierra Leone that nationals of the country at home and abroad would be proud of. Policing is now a profession of pride in Sierra Leone, unlike the past and the Force can now boast of some of the finest brains in the country.
Only last year, President Koroma ‘s Government donated 52 vehicles to the Police as part of its capacity-building program for the Force .During the handing-over ceremony, President Koroma told the Police that ” Two riot control vehicles have also been procured and will be with the police in June. ” He also said that ”We are also procuring equipment for the non-lethal management of public order. “ From these SSR programs , any reasonable man can conclude that it is not the wish of Government for the Police to use lethal weapons against civilians during public disturbances.
The Sierra Leone Police , however, has not been fulfilling its own part of the bargain. Last Monday , another civilian, a schoolboy this time, died from gunshot wounds inflicted by the Police during a clash between students of the Ansarul Secondary School and traders in Freetown.
I am disappointed by the fact that service personnel, civil servants and public servants increasingly display poor judgement and lack of sensitivity not only to the welfare of the people they serve, but to the very Government that recruited some of them. They fail to take into account the unfortunate fact that errant citizens looking for opportunities to blame the government will always seize on their acts of petulance to hold the Government accountable for their deeds of commission or omission .
The Government certainly does not condone police brutality and should not be blamed for it whenever it occurs. As far as the Government is concerned, it has done , and continues to do, everything within its power to provide the nation with a police force that is well-trained ,well-conditioned and well-equipped to handle societal problems efficiently and professionally. However, a mother might give birth a child but she does not produce in the child the same heart she possesses .
While the majority of our police officers may be committed and inclined towards professionalism and good policing, it is an undeniable fact that there are many bad eggs in the force who deserve to be weeded out. Trigger-happy officers have no business in the Police Force. This is the challenge now facing the Inspector General, Mr. Francis Munu and other top brass of the Sierra Leone Police Force. They have to purge the SLP of officers that give the Force, government and the nation a bad name. Also, they have to be very cautious with their recruitment procedures to ensure that they do not bring in prospective officers that are mentally ill-equipped for delicate Police work.
COCORIOKO spoke with several members of the Sierra Leone Police Force and sought to know why the Police storm troubled spots with lethal weapons and live bullets, compared to the past when teargas and rubber bullets sufficed. The answer was that situations have dramatically changed over the decades.They outlined the dangerous extent lawlessness has gone these days and the fact that youths of today are not only over-bold and uncontrollable ; they also use deadly killer weapons like machetes. While this may be true, the fact remains that Police armed with AK-47s and M-16 rifles possess a disproportional lethal advantage over civilians. If they have to shoot at all, it must be with rubber bullets and as a last resort TO SAVE THE LIVES OF INNOCENT CIVILIANS AT RISK and the aim should be to disable, not to kill. Rubber bullets should definitely be the weapons of choice, not live bullets. There is no excuse for shooting and killing unarmed civilians . None. The officer responsible for killing the young man must be arrested and brought to trial without further delay.
When that has been said, it is also necessary to send a word of advice to parents and guardians to help the authorities stem youthful indiscretion and lawlessness , which are becoming a menace in Sierra Leone. Even in the United States, parents and guardians are advised to warn their kids not to engage in confrontations with Police. Children should learn to retreat from advancing Police, not challenge them to a showdown or go down the wire with them, not because the Police have a right to shoot ( They don’t ) but because there will always be bad eggs among the Police who will use disproportional force. They do not have the right to do so, but it is a fact of life. When all hell breaks loose, not all officers have the mental capacity to exercise restraint. This is a well-acknowledged fact even in the U.S. where police brutality and the killing of unarmed civilians, especially blacks, are worryingly common. However , this still does not excuse police brutality and killings. It should only be a cautionary action by the public to promote peace , not to motivate officers to behave themselves.
These incidents also mean that much more needs to be done to improve Police-Community relations. The Police have to know that they are legally bound and obligated to protect civilians. It is their primary duty. Equally, civilians have to know that they are bound to respect the authority of the Police and must never try to hinder them in the lawful execution of their duties.
Civilians do not trust the police and the Police too view the public with suspicion , so collaborative activities and partnerships deserve to be established between the Police and the public. Police should engage in frequent community outreach to remove the barrier and distrust between them and the public. Police should not be seen only when there is chaos ,when mean-faced armed officers in riot gear materialize on a community. There should be friendly avenues of collaboration and fellowship, which go a long way to foster healthy relationships between the two and establish decent perceptions about each other.The media must also educate the police and the public about the responsibilities they owe each other.
We wish to extend our condolence to the bereaved family of the young man killed in the riot and we also extend our sympathies to all those injured . We call for the officer who pulled the trigger to be brought to justice.