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Opinions of Thursday, 15 December 2011

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Atta Mills: Ghana’s police force is crying for help! Act!!!!

The state of policing in Ghana has tipped towards the doldrums. A lot of the societal problems we currently face, for example corruption and robberies, are byproducts of corrupt and ineffective police practices of the past and present. To be brutally frank, our police force is a huge let down to our development. Indeed, this culture of corruption, a metastasizing cancer that grips us today, was made able, partly, by the police force in Ghana. For far too long, we’ve allowed the police to operate, knowing the incompetence and corruption that oozes from that disgraced force. Serious criminals who belong to jail are roaming the streets free because our police force will not act. This issue is very serious and will continue to harangue and cement us in a swivet we don’t deserve. Foreign investment and tourism are two clear areas that will never reach their potential so long as we continue to prop this vision-less colonial police.

The impact of bad policing in Ghana cannot be swiftly swept under the rug. First, the failing adversarial court system can be partially hinged on bad and incompetent policing. Secondly, the ascendancy of instant justice is clear proof that dealing with the police is a waste of precious little time. As a result, our populace, with glacial pace, is being oriented to believe that taking the law into your own hands is a far better option than dealing with a trifling police officer whose goal is to play both sides of the aisle to maximize his or her bloodsucking potential. Are we heading into a situation where people pack heat? Thirdly, no wonder Ghana is gradually transforming into a lawless country, if it is not already there. Why do we have to live with feral mindless criminals, willing to kill, rape, and pillage at a moment’s notice?

It is not unusual to see drivers speed away from disgraced police officers because these officers can’t stop asking for bribes. There is not a day in Ghana where police officers don’t go out to collect bribes on the roads under the guise of public safety. Yet you and I know that these police officers don’t give a rat’s behind if you fall off the face of God’s green earth. And yes the so called “big man” in the office knows all about this set up. The junior officers rake in the money from motorists and pass some of their loot on to superior officers in the office. Indeed, junior officers who don’t bring home the bacon or “road kill” as it is popularly known, may not get the chance to go on the road next time.

Instead of bringing in much needed revenue into state coffers, police officers are callously draining the coffers by pocketing hefty bribes. How then do they expect the government to pay them and upgrade equipment? Yet their myopia won’t let them their own mortal failings!! We can and should actually create a partially self- financing police force. May be 50% of police pay must be tied to what revenue they bring in. This way, police officers will not get paid if they don’t bring in revenue. Hopefully, this may push the police to enforce the law in a way that pour revenue into the national tiller. These selfish officers must understand that they can’t have their cake and eat it. Society cannot pay them to collect bribes for personal gain. This paradigm is sickening.

Ghana used to be a place where you could walk the streets any time of day and not worry about crime. Now, you can’t venture outside without cover. The situation is getting worse day in day out. Stories about armed robberies flood media outlets even as our inept politicians and so called leaders sit on their trembling hands. If you are an investor, will you consider investing in a situation like Ghana? Is you are a tourist, will you consider visiting Ghana, given the ascendancy of broad daylight carjackings? If you are a resident, are you inclined to take matters into your trembling hands? Will you consider packing heat (carrying a loaded gun)? If you are in the diaspora, will you consider retiring into this situation? Yet some of us want that flag draped around our coffins!

There are reported instances of persons, robbed of their newly cleared cars from the harbor, on their way home. There is no doubt, that, crime is jetting up while policing takes a nose dive. One requirement that helps promote vibrant economic activity is effective policing. Knowing that laws will and can be enforced help business activity. Without effective law enforcement, economic activity can be severely hampered. To attract investments and tourists, we have to compete with other countries that are doing a better job at policing.

One would assume that our politicians will sense this creeping challenge and take it head on. Unfortunately, the leaders in Ghana have not been able to address this menace. Of course these leaders have their personal security detail and could care less. Some of them will continue to enjoy the same level of security even while out of office. So why should they care about what happens to you and me? While the politicians continue to enjoy their security perk, the rich afford private guards at their residences. Where does that leave the poor and ordinary?

It is crystal clear that we have a serious problem with policing in Ghana. This is why we must radically rethink policing in Ghana. We can be very creative by considering concepts like community policing, undercover activities, improving communication for crime reporting, providing performance based incentives, equipping the police and completely eradicating corruption from our police force.

To do the latter, we must reorganize the police from top to bottom. We must create a values based ethical culture within the police. We must also provide the resources to enable the police to do their job. Basic requirements like uniforms, technology, up to date continuous training, transportation, facilities and incentives should be key considerations in our march to tame this beast. We can’t continue to neglect and ill-equip the police and expect them to perform magic. Just imagine police stations without telephones, ink pads, computers and vehicles to respond to crime. To make this effort successful, our citizens must also be fully engaged. This means that, we should inform the public about their role in making policing work. Citizens must also know their rights and hold the police force responsible. We must get our priorities straight.

In the end, effective policing alone will not solve all of our problems. However, we expect competent police officers, equipped with appropriate tools, technology and a stern willingness to carry out the law without fear or favor. The rule of law is meaningless if the police force is crippled and feckless. We need new vision and leadership to drive a new police force.

We have two clear choices, among others. We are either going to beef up policing significantly and push crime down, or turn Ghana into a right to carry country. This way, citizens can do for themselves, what their police force fails to do. If the OK Kraal comes to mind, so be it! We must reverse this precarious and pernicious tip towards the abyss. I know for sure, that, I will not live in Ghana permanently, as it is, without arming myself. I would rather die protecting myself than allow some gun totting coward to take me out. I intend to surely pack heat if and when I relocate. Ordinary, Ghanaians and their visitors, like their leaders, have a right to decent security.

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman

(Also known as Da Double Edge Sword)---

I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it is hell---Harry Truman