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Opinions of Thursday, 19 March 2009

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

Cell Phone Technology a Choice for Ghana Police.

Using the cheapest and latest technology at our disposal to fight crime in Ghana is long overdue.

The internet, cell phone and modern day technology have revolutionized society such that anybody can access instant and unfiltered information. These sources of information have in addition given the ordinary citizens the chance to become hardcore white –collar criminal elements and amateur gossipers.

This is how it goes at times: “Hello, Gifty, I have some juicy news for you. Charity is still seeing that bank manager .They just returned from Togo, after a two day trip and came home with bags of clothes. She’s having fun .But, don’t tell Mark, he would kill her……… Hold on, my boss just walked in .I’ll flash you when he goes out again. Send me some units so that I can tell you more. ”.

That is not a full-blown gossip, but it has the characteristics of becoming a professional one. Thanks to the cell- phone, nothing is considered a secret any more.

These days, digital devices are turbo-charging the way we live; including how we can and should fight crimes. Cell phones have become the latest medium to communication in our times. It has the potential to be an effective tool in the crime-fighting.

Almost every Ghanaian wants the smallest and the latest cell phone with additional features like video camera, MP3 and TV channels which can be used to fight crime other than mere gossiping. I believe these gadgets are great tools for fighting crime in our communities.

For some time now, the Ghana Police Service is handicapped in crime- fighting equipment and logistics. The Police should seek the support of the citizenry by creating a department that will encourage and reward individuals who send an anonymous text-messages and cell phone pictures of crime scenes or crime being committed.

An eye-witness can snap a photo of a fleeing driver, a robber or anyone with suspicious move to a special Police Crime Unit. The text messages and the pictures could be stored on the Police’s Crime Database for further investigation. With this arrangement, anyone with a cell phone in a vicinity of a crime could be a potential crime fighter.

To encourage citizens to participate in such endeavor, people should be rewarded if their tips, text messages and pictures are good sources to unearth crime. To meet the demand for cash reward, there should be a Police Endowment Fund for this purpose.

Cell phone can also be a double-edge sword. It can be used to expose a police officer who takes bribe from a driver or an officer engaging in shoddy dealings.

Yes, someone will come up with all kinds of excuses to prove that this cannot work in Ghana let alone to try it. But, we still send large volume of text messages and photos back and forth, as a pastime anyway. Why can we not make use of a technology which we pay little or nothing to acquire anyway?

I won’t be surprised if this noble idea is turned into a money making industry. Undoubtedly some police officers will use the phone numbers for other purposes. There is no point to sugar-coat this: Ghana police like some other State Institutions has proven to be anything but when it comes to money. The moral bankruptcy of some officers will try to derail this noble idea way before it germinates. This plan also has the potential to be hijacked by the “vigilante justice crowd”, because some people would take the law into their own hands if the police don’t step up their game.’

Cell phones can play an increasing role in criminal investigations .To the law enforcement officers, cell phone is no longer a harmless pastime device which we should ignore its usage by the criminal elements in the society.

Often, the police officers in the developed countries use their cell phones to record evidence which can be adduced in prosecution. The dialed and received call logs and text message logs include the date and time the call or message was placed.

However, the information on the phone is not easy to retrieve by simply ordinary police work. In developed countries police officers use a specialized hardware and software that will allow them to gather all of the data on the phone. Using this equipment, a cell phone forensic officer will do every thing carefully to access every bit of information and pictures from the phone.

With the emergence of portable digital and cell phone cameras and social networking sites on the internet new frontiers have been opened for the Ghanaian police to police. These frontiers are very wide and treacherous which require modern technical skills. Policing the internet is not an easy task, but any modern Police force can not look the other way when the criminal elements have turned it into a major highway on which to practice their trade.

These days technology has allowed everyone with a digital camera to send pictures to the YOUTUBE, instantly free of charge. The YOUTUBE videos are harmless. However, it tells criminal elements how to do everything from breaking into a house to the construction and manufacturing of home -made bombs. There are tons of videos showing the techniques of how -to -do everything and anything you can think of by typing in the word.

The fact of the matter is that modern day technology has made available new devices which can be used for the good of society. Ten years ago Google, Facebook or Myspace were not even part of our vocabulary. In fact, if anyone had told me they were going to be part of our lives I would have told him to take a nap in the urinal. Within the same period, digital cameras were beyond the reach of ordinary citizens. These facilities are however very accessible these days.

Technology is rapidly changing for both law enforcement officers and the criminal elements in our society. Therefore, criminal investigators, police officers and any serious police force need to adapt and learn as soon as possible the changes before they become the casualties of time and technology. For any law enforcement agency to live up to its duty, it is very important that it stays two notches ahead of the criminal elements.

I know the government can not keep up with the technology. But, I hope the Ghana Police will find encouragement and inspiration, simply in the fact that things are changing .And, yes, change does not always bring progress, but progress does always require change. This is the change it can not afford not to be part of. So the policy makers at the HQ should kick-start new ideas to figure out how to police all the high-tech gear in the hands of the criminal elements in our midst. So the Police should form a strong alliance with the cell phone and internet service providers to accelerate the changes needed to make the force a viable and reliable institution of this century and beyond.

The Ghana Police can’t and shouldn’t fight 20th century crimes with 18th century arsenals. It cannot win. If the police lost the battle against criminals, the citizens will pay with their lives and souls. It is a reality which needs our ultimate attention.

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi NJ, USA

*The Author is a social commentator and the founder of Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment Foundation of Asuom,Akim. E/R