A Commentary By Ranger
In the nation’s quest for development, understanding and appreciating the relationship between security, peace and development is intrinsically significant to the achievement of peace, cohesion and sustainable development. However, Sierra Leoneans generally hold their police force which is responsible for law enforcement in contempt, accusing under every regime of undermining the rule of law by failing to responsibly and dutifully perform honorably its constitutional duties of enforcing law and order, protecting lives and property, preventing crime, detecting crime and prosecuting criminals in the court of law.
It was the hope of many Sierra Leoneans disillusioned with the police force that the appointment of Ambrose Sovula as the new Inspector General would instill fresh blood and a sense of purpose into the country’s so-called force for good. Yet as the English in their wisdom say, you cannot teach old dogs new tricks, nor should you put old wine in new bottles.
According to Amnesty International, the record of abuses and impunity leveled against citizens by our police force is such that no reform will be able to succeed without a strong commitment to accountability and redress of past abuses. Against this background, it should be noted that in recent days and weeks four major and unrelated incidents put negative spotlight on the SLP.
The riot at IPAM which was badly managed by the SLP; the untoward reaction of a police officer to use pepper spray against a Member of Parliament, the gunning down of a civilian at Hastings by an OSD officer and the alleged death of an EDSA due to police action. All these are pointers to the fact that the police need to relinquish certain behaviors if they are to be seen to be working in the interest of the people.
Including poor leadership and bad management, there are several administrative factors that contribute to the low opinion the people have of the integrity, professionalism and effectiveness of the police force to instill discipline and law and order in the society. Lack of proper training and supervision, coupled with corruption and political interference continue to undermine public trust in the police. Of the challenges listed, the perception of corruption came out strongest.
Corruption is largely directed at the traffic police, CID and charge offices which are most frequent point of contact between the police and citizens. Other corruption-related claims include the demand for logistical support, such as transportation and the request for tips or bribes to encourage police to take cases.The government recently increased the salaries of judiciary staffs without raising the salaries of the police, the gatekeepers of law and order. Another major challenge is poor salaries and conditions of service.
For instance, a corporal receives a salary of less than $100 a month, which is inadequate to meet personal and family demands. Not only do the low salaries undermine morale, it makes officers look for supplementary means (mostly corrupt) to meet their financial demands.
The police also contend with significant logistical challenges such as barracks, operational vehicles, transport, etc. As such, government and its development partners need to invest more in the force to ensure that it can meet the growing demand for security and justice in the country .Political tension and mistrust, which embody negative peace, are challenges that the country continues to contend with. Police officers confess that there are instances when they are given ‘orders from above’ to direct their line of action to be taken in certain cases.
From a political point of view, what citizens want to see is an unbiased, professional police force that respects the rule of law, regardless of who the law breaker is or who he is connected to. Only then will the people have respect for the police as a force for good. The heavy-handedness of the police brings to the fore the need to create a very strong, dependable, reliable force for good for effective law enforcement and for the maintenance of social order while simultaneously preventing the force from becoming tool of oppression through overaggressive law enforcement.
This requires more democratic checks and controls to mitigate excesses and the use of discretion. The police need to be retrained. Specific training recommended include community security, crowd control, dealing with young people, use of discretion, human rights and the rule of law, and fighting corruption within the police. To further consolidate the peace-building process, and to improve on democratic policing, there is urgent need for continued investments in structural and systemic transformations within the SLP that the people will have confidence and trust in as we prepare to go into election in 2023.
The government needs to understand that it has a vital role to play in this, as it has the principal responsibility of protecting and promoting the rights and welfare of Sierra Leoneans.