Monday, 28 November 2011

Memo to the IGP - Patrol or not to Patrol

My last direct appeal to you via this page was in June last year, but since then I have made references to the police in several articles in this column. In a sense, it could even be argued that I am fond of picking on the police, but that is for a very good reason. I am unshakeable in my belief that whether we go forward, stand still or travel backwards depends to a large measure on the kind of police and policing we have in this country. This is why I believe that the police and the people must be on the same side, especially in fighting for the Service to be adequately resourced in all spheres for the job at hand.
In some countries public relations officers of public institutions are kept busy with responses to concerns raised by citizens, especially in the media, but this not being the case in Ghana, my public conversations with you have been one-sided, but where there is life there is hope! In an earlier article, I commended you for being a man with a mission to modernise the Police Service, and suggested that the Police Service’s operational manual be made public so that the public would know what to expect from the changes and reforms you advocated when you took office.
As things stand now, it is difficult to know what to expect from the police although we know that you and the Service are committed to international standards and best practice, as stated on your website. I raise this in connection with police patrols or lack of them in our towns and cities because police patrols, often on foot are the most basic and visible form of policing that citizens should expect in accordance with international best practices.
I am sure that you are aware of the sad and unpardonable killing of six year old Gladys Nyarko Mensah at Akyem New Tafo last week. The little school girl was said to have been “butchered by a mentally deranged woman” who emerged out of nowhere and attached Gladys with a machete as she played with her friends in front of her house. This being Ghana, this is possibly the end of the story: the little girl is dead, perhaps her grand-something is a witch, the killer is mad – end of story.
However, remarks by Chief Inspector Yaw Nketia-Yeboah when briefing the media, should at the very least lead to a clarification of police practices as far as patrolling and security in our villages, towns and cities are concerned. The Chief Inspector explained that Aku, the suspected killer, “was seen” on the streets of New Tafo on the fateful day wielding a machete, and went on to describe how the “mentally deranged woman” chased Gladys through the vicinity of her house and inflicted fatal machete wounds on her body. Now, read this slowly: “Chief Inspector Nketia-Yeboah advised the public to be security conscious and report to the police anybody whose attitude posed a security threat to others, saying, ‘if those who had seen this mentally deranged person had reported her to the police the death of Gladys would have been prevented’”.
I agree with the Chief Inspector on the bare essentials. The public must be security conscious is good advice and obviously if those who had seen Aku on a rampage had reported to the police the death of Gladys would have been prevented. That is true. But let us probe a little further because the police officer apportions no blame or responsibility to the New Tafo Police who must have been aware, or ought to have been aware that Aku, a mentally deranged woman was loose on the streets of the town but chose to do nothing about it.
Look at it this way: unless Aku suddenly and without any previous illness took to the streets with a machete, we can assume that Aku has been fixture on the streets of Tafo for some time, possibly for a long time. Is it the responsibility of the police to ensure the removal of such persons? Or do the police have to wait in their offices to be told that such persons have turned suddenly violent? I do not know what the laws or rules are regarding the removal of such people but what I know from other countries is that the police proactively remove such people whether they are violent or not.
Now, let us look at police patrols. In this country hardly do we see any police officers on patrols even in predictably tense and potentially aggressive situations. A case in point was during the last World Cup when thousands of people converged at Osu to celebrate Ghana victories and there was hardly any police presence after the first victory over Serbia. The situation changed after media outcry but was it or was it not police procedure to anticipate such a situation and make provision for it?
Police patrol, especially foot patrols are not unknown in Ghana. Police patrols, including the defunct Local Authority (Ahenfie) police were seen often in the streets of our towns and villages to ensure good behaviour. Deterrence and quick reaction are the main reasons why intimate policing is the norm in several countries in the world, but unfortunately not in Ghana. The IGP and the police hierarchy can test this by going to Makola any day to see for themselves the lack of preventive and proactive policing at the most populous outdoor venue in the country. The same goes for the Accra Mall where thousands of mostly young people congregate every weekend on a relatively small piece of land. One does not need to be a brain surgeon or police officer to know that something, anything can go wrong with disastrous consequences at such places.
Now, back to the Chief Inspector, I am not sure that it ever crossed his mind that Aku, the “mentally deranged woman” could have “been seen” by police officers at New Tafo if any had been out and about as is the case elsewhere in the world. I have a feeling that the Chief Inspector truly believes that the job of the policeman and woman is to sit in the office to receive complaints and tip offs, but never simply to go out and see what goes on in their patch, if they “have” a patch.
It is almost never the case to see a police officer on foot patrol anywhere; they are either guarding a place or event, or else speeding by in a vehicle. A few years ago I saw a scene that I could not even have imagined. A driver lost control of his vehicle which slammed into a light pole in front of the Flagstaff House in Accra. It missed three women on the kerb before coming to rest against the pole. A minute later a policeman on a motorcycle emerged on the scene. He slowed down and looked contemptuously at the scene as people scrambled to and from in the confusion. Then he drove off. It could only happen in Ghana; it did.
In some countries little Gladys’ death would have sparked a serious uproar because a little girl should not be killed by a known “deranged woman” in front of the girl’s house. Questions would have been asked in Parliament and relevant ministers would be scratching their heads for changes to the status quo so that other little girls would not perish in this way.
This will not happen in Ghana because there is no immediate political advantage for either the NPP or NDC but at least this tragedy could lead to shed light on the rules on the removal of potential and actual public menace from the streets, and also encourage the police to tell us whether in Ghana police work is limited to the office. This would also help us to set our expectations of the Police Service and its performance. Perhaps, Chief Inspector Nketia-Yeboah is correctly stating the position of the Ghana Police. I have no way of knowing, but the IGP can put us out of the misery of ignorance.

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