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Opinions of Sunday, 10 November 2019

Columnist: Sulley Ibrahim

What it will take to be Inspector-General of Police in contemporary Ghana

The Inspector-General of Police (IGP) office heads the police service in Ghana. Occupants of the office are appointed by presidents of the country. Once appointed, IGPs supervise the police service. This includes how law and public order are enforced and maintained. The style of leadership exhibited by IGPs thus has far-reaching implications for the safeguarding of the peace, security and political stability of the country.

Ghana has had 29 IGPs so far as a modern nation-state. The 28th was axed from the office in a rather rare manner. He was asked to proceed on leave with barely three weeks to retirement from the profession. Indeed, he should have retired a year earlier but was given extended contract. His tenure was marked by different positive and undesired outcomes. Each IGP tenure indeed endures some difficulties in policing even though lapses in the 28th tenure appeared to have slanted the achievements.

Lately, the police service has been challenged on several fronts. Low public confidence has continued to undermine public cooperation with the police. Criminal activities, especially kidnapping and other waves of violence which were unheard of now appear to evade the police in various instances. A persisting challenge is police brutality. This involves deadly civilian attacks on on-duty officers and stations and/or personalized enforcement of law and public order exhibited by a select number of men and women in the service. There appears to be a very thin hope that this type of violent activities would decline any time soon.

In addition to these developing trends in policing in the country are regular criminal activities. These include armed robbery, land-guard violence, chieftaincy disputes, farmer-herder conflicts and political vigilante violence that arise during electoral competitions.

The way the police receive and record complaints as well as respond to distressed calls has also come up as another challenge. The general consensus seems to show that the service is still struggling with these types of activities associated with policing. These perceptions variously contribute to lowering public trust and confidence in the police service.

Several suggestions have therefore implored the police service to do more to retain a strong legitimacy in the public. The service must not just combat crime but also be seen to enforce law and public order consistent with the country’s democratic dispensation. This calls for a leadership strategy which restructures the service to enable it to combat threats to the peace, security and political stability of the country in ways that positively ingrain the service in the minds and hearts of the populace.

This write-up makes few contributions to this call. It advocates for a style of leadership that moves the entire country to believe in the work of the police service in three ways. Indeed, police strategic leadership must confront different and overlapping issues on a daily basis. The style of leadership I advocate for in this write-up should however allow the public to identify with the work of the police more favourably.

a. Police and the political elite group – asserting the profession

IGPs are appointed by presidents of the country. The constitution further pins the police service within the executive arm of the state. This makes the police service to appear as ‘watch-dogs’ for governing parties. This has been frequently taken to mean loyalty of police officers lies in governing parties and not necessarily in the law they enforce. This perceptive reality tends to sometimes split public opinions about police work, especially cases involving politically exposed persons.

This is a challenge that top leadership must confront to rebuild public trust in the service. One way to deal with this challenge is to ensure that the police are seen to act for the law in all situations. IGPs can ensure that officers assert the profession when dealing with the political elite group. They should consistently show the political elite group that the police way of doing things achieves better and superior results.

This assertiveness can be ingrained in both senior-ranked and junior-ranked officers. This as well requires ensuring that personal and professional discipline consistently manifests at all levels and ranks, especially at unit commands. Unit commands have direct contact with the general public. They are generally the first points for public complaints. The way they assert the vision of the police service would speak a lot about how the public perceive and relate with the service.

This style of leadership may promptly motivate officers who lead field operations to brief the public while senior-ranked commanders flank them. Senior-ranked officers can subsequently clarify public reactions to discrepancies that may emerge after such briefs. This has the potential to boost the confidence and trust of junior-ranked officers in their immediate supervisors.

b.Police-civilian relations – to police is not to commit harm and violation

The traditional mandate of the police service in Ghana, according to article 200 (3) of the 1992 Constitution, is to maintain law and enforce public order. Public compliance with the police allows peace, security and cohesion to prevail within communities. The police achieve this by acting in ways that deter crime commission.

This includes cautioning behaviours that have the potential to disrupt public order and executing arrest orders. The police keep in custody law offenders who await court trial and/or under further investigations.

In the process of executing this mandate, the public may misread the intentions of police officers. This situation has differently elicited episodic events of civilian brutality of police officers and police brutality of civilians in recent times. These events have undermined cordial police-public relations.

Leadership styles of IGPs should bring the police and public closer to rebuild ‘friendly’ relations. IGPs should realize that public perceptions about the police and policing have changed over the years and there are legitimate reasons for this change. Majority of the citizens are well-educated. Social and diverse mainstream media have made comparative ideas about international standards of policing cheaply available and accessible to many.

The intelligence of the public should therefore be considered in all efforts to foster cordial police-public relations. This strategy ought not regard negative public attitudes towards the police in a hostile manner. It should rather treat negative public sentiments against the service as requiring up-to-date education about how the police are policing them.

This type of education should in itself be informed by research evidence. Research variously show favourable public attitudes towards police and police work lead to a general willingness to cooperate with police officers. Levels of confidence in police and satisfaction with police work positively explain public attitudes and behaviours towards police officers. Public negative attitudes and reactions towards police officers thus imply a presence of a low public confidence in methods of policing.

The targeted public education can accordingly empower the public to understand and appreciate why they are stakeholders in the preservation of the peace and security of the country. They should be encouraged to be active partners in crime prevention and promotion of societal security and safety.

The public would particularly expect the police to rather be up-to-date with patterns of crime and criminal sites in their neighbourhoods than expect to be updated. The police can meet this challenge by working with and through the civilian population. Leadership can prioritize intelligence-led policing to promptly meet this expectation.

This may include empowering the public with relevant knowledge and attitudes to boost their confidence to report and help officers to identify criminal networks operating within their localities. Another measure that can be useful in this respect includes instituting punitive measures to prevent and deal with individual officers who have tendencies to expose identities of key informants and/or mismanage themselves.

It appears the 29th IGP has already shown some level of proactiveness in this respect. Certain unit commanders have recently been interdicted for various unprofessional conducts. These interdictions clearly send out messages to officers that all officers ought to show a sense of responsibility and leadership.

One would still expect that orders interdicting low-ranked commanders be issued by regional commands. Oftentimes, these interdiction letters have come from the national office. Dealing with lower-ranked commands directly may foster public conjectures about the type of relationships IGPs have with regional commands.

It may also stimulate regional commands to feel overlooked and thereby develop superficial working relationship with national leadership. This type of attitudes can stifle initiative and increase apathy. Leadership styles of IGPs may therefore want to be consistent in some of these instances.

The service has nevertheless lately responded swiftly to issues affecting officers, especially those manning checkpoints. It is now expected that this kind of rapid reaction be extended to include cases involving the general public. Inconsistency in extending this standard to ordinary persons may disturb the already fragile public trust and confidence in the service.

c. Dynamic and evolving police service – democratic police and policing

Contemporary Ghana is a liberal democracy. The secular constitution adopts liberty and right-based approach to enforcing law and public order. People still live and are encouraged to cherish their respective cultures.

Leadership of the police service ought to recognize this dichotomy and incorporate it into the training of recruits. Officers should be equipped with knowledge and skills related to alternative dispute resolution, peacemaking, public relations and communication in diverse aggrieved situations.

Leadership can attach special attention to how the public lodge complaints as well as how officers receive and record such complaints, investigate and gather evidence for prosecution. The way officers exercise discretion in these stages of policing has been one of the proximate causes of civilian brutality against the police and police stations.

Officers in charge of receiving and recording complaints should be implored to treat complainants with at least some level of benefit of doubt as well as subject complaints to verifiable police protocols. Respect for complainants can only assist the police to have precise access to different ways that a single crime can be committed.

Rights-based policing should have police officers that enforce law and public order without harming and violating basic dignities of suspects. Leadership ought to enable officers know that beating, unclothing, kicking and water-boating and/or acting in ways that dehumanize the person of suspects are not desired by a democratic police service. It can as well be an ideal that resolutions of public complaints ensure that disputants depart with some measure of satisfaction with respect to the process that resolved the dispute.

It may also be considered that grievances involving police officers and civilians are addressed by independent public complaints commissioner and not the police service. This will help to absolve the police service from perceptions that it will always shield one of its own from public scrutiny.

The research and public relations departments can be resourced to drive this style of leadership. These offices can also pay attention to public comments following police press releases and other media publications that concern the police service.

Patterns and sentiments showing up in these comments can be useful for training recruits and the professional development of in-service officers. These types of public commentary are often randomly made and cannot therefore be neatly considered as systematic against the police service.

In effect, the welfare of police officers and logistics for policing are very necessary for effective and efficient policing. The attitudes police officers display in their contact with the public however have a profound influence in determining the legitimacy of the police service in the hearts and minds of the public. A favourable public legitimacy can in itself help the public to support the police in different ways.

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