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Opinions of Monday, 10 March 2014

Columnist: Pacas, Idris

Crime rate among the police is too high

In recent times, the rate at which police personnel commit high-profile crimes is terribly great. Naturally, among any group of persons, one or two may have questionable characters. However, the number of police personnel who are now engaging in crime is extremely shocking and worrisome for at least three reasons: the police officers involved are always in uniform, they are usually using police patrol vehicles and they are always on duty. Despite having a plethora of cases in mind, I focus on only four high-profile cases; their immediate and long-term implications and how to minimize such unfortunate occurrences.

In the most recent one that I can remember, two police personnel namely: Richard Osei and Joseph Clottey (both lance corporals) brutally assaulted one Muntari Adams and ended up robbing him of US $55,000.00. The said police personnel allegedly teamed up with one Dr Asante and lured the victim to Industrial Area, Accra, where they handcuffed him and applied pepper spray into his eyes. In addition, they took away GH¢1,000.00 and two mobile phones belonging to him. They finally damped the victim at a drinking spot behind the Police Headquarters (http://www.spyghana.com @ 08/03/2014).

The aforementioned police personnel who ‘arrested’ Adams on charges of money laundering never reported the matter to any station. It was the victim who rather reported the robbery and torture, which took place in Sept. 9, 2013, to the police. Media reports clearly showed that it was again the victim, not the police, who painstakingly pursued the said police-turned robbers and even spotted Lance Corporal Richard Osei on Nov. 6, 2013, but he managed to escape from Adams. The eventual arrest of the suspects on March 3, 2014—this date making the incident recent—by the Greater Accra Regional Police Command leaves innumerable gaps in our minds as to how and why the suspected robbing police (police with marked propensity to rob civilians) managed to escape arrest all that while.

In another horrifying incident, Robert Fenning Amponsah and Isaac Nimako Yeboah (both general lance corporals) allegedly rob their victims of huge sums of monies in some parts of Accra between October 2013 and January 2014. They claimed to have committed the offence together with General Lance Corporal Andrew Adu-Poku and one Bright, both reported to be on the run (http://graphic.com.gh/news/general-news @ 01/02/2014). The police-turned robbers used an official 4×4 vehicle with registration number GP 3517, which they replaced with a fake number GP 3629. According to DCOP David Nenyi Ampah-Benin, a taxi driver who noticed the fake number hung loose exposing the original number photographed it and forwarded the photo to police. Congrats to this taxi-driver-turned police!

Ridiculously, the DCOP urged the public to scrutinise the identity of police personnel they encounter in order to expose impersonators and unprofessional ones. The simple question is, ‘Is it the duty of the public to obey law enforcement agencies or to scrutinize them?’ More important, the arrest of these robbing police came only after the police administration had persistently received complaints from the public. Hmm! The public is now in charge of policing the police.

The third and one of the usual incidences occurred on Aug. 4, 2013. It involved one Benjamin Tekutey of Kakito Police Station under the Ashaiman Division who dressed up his friend in a police uniform and both attacked a Chinese national Xiangmen and his two friends at a gunpoint around the Tetteh-Quarshie Interchange. Corp. Tekutey and his accomplice managed to rob the victims of their Nissan pick-up vehicle with registration number CD 2665 X, GH¢ 500 and two mobile phones (http://edition.myjoyonline.com @ 15/08/2013).

In the arrest of Corp. Tekutey, COP Prosper Agblor, reportedly criticized the arrested officer for using his skills to harm society when they are meant to benefit it. He cautioned police officers to desist from such acts or FACE THE FULL RIGOURS OF THE LAW. (The police are to face the full rigours of the law?)

The fourth and last incident, which is now taking the most worrying dimension, involved two persons, both in police uniform, who were spotted inspecting vehicles at about 12:20 a.m. on Monday December 16, 2013 at Community 18 Junction on the Spintex Road. The two impersonators, Ishmael Bashiru and his accomplice George Atipoli, were seen by a police patrol team. It was alleged that George was dismissed from the police service. But exactly how the ex-policeman still had his uniforms is a mystery. Even the Commander who briefed the press equally claimed to be surprised. It was George who then gave one of his uniforms to Bashiru (www.peacefmonline.com @ 18/12/2013).

Clearly, somebody must have been negligent for which George still had his uniforms or was re-supplied some. A lot of questions remained to be asked and answered as to how George and his accomplice were bold enough to be operating in an enlightened community that is in no where but the nation’s capital. The reader should begin to imagine what might be happening in the urban, suburban and rural areas! The audacity which George and his accomplice must have in order to operate in the nation’s capital points to the existence of a syndicate.

The first consequence of this high incidence of crime in the police service is overburdened and diluted service to the public. Both the overburdening and dilution of service come from the police investing much of its attention to spying on and monitoring its own members not to keep on dragging its name into the mire. Therefore, among any group of police on duty, at least one or two trusted officers must be included and their main attention might be to keep an eye on the others at the expense of public protection—the reason for their employment.

The second effect is increasing public ‘defiance’. Defiance occurs when one challenges both the status of police personnel and their integrity or professionalism. During media briefing on each of the arrest, the usual advice the police gave to the public is the need for everyone to be alert of impersonator police officers. Thus, when we encounter police, we must first try to establish whether the said persons actually belong to the police service or not. It remains unclear how an ordinary person like me seeing an officer in genuine police uniform with his/her name boldly embossed on the uniform will be able to determine his or her status. Even if the such mechanisms are clearly explained and known to the public, must the citizenry obey first or must we ignore what the officer is saying and try to establish his/her status before obeying? The other immediate effect is a ‘chaotic’ order being enforced by the so-called law enforcement agency. The long-term effect is justifiable suspicion of the police service; the department which in itself is responsible for fighting crime. The suspicions are justifiable because the criminal cases, most of which involve robbing civilians of money and other property, are ‘infinite’ and high-profile by nature. The said crimes are usually committed by police personnel of higher ranks; low-ranking police who commit such crimes have links with the above. In addition, the public know not the number of such cases that go unreported.

Turning to the causes, one wonders what motivate law enforcement agencies to be acting as models for law breaking. Most likely, the root causes are the recruitment of ‘criminals’ into the service and the compassionate handling of robbing police. Debatably, the current mode of recruitment is politically aligned. Therefore, irrespective of the past of those ‘enlisted’ on the ‘protocol list’, they must necessarily be recruited. In terms of treatment of the robbing police, the service, in most cases, claims that it is withholding the identities of the suspects for security reasons. Hmm! Robbers with police protection! In the end, exactly how many of these cases are adjudicated remains unknown to the public. A public hearing of the cases of involving police can therefore reduce the crime rate among them.

Focusing on solving the problem, I think that one of the immediate measures the police service can take to curb the crime rate and at least to redeem its waning image (if it has any left) is to conduct thorough background checks. Prior to recruitment, an investigation into the background of potential recruits will surely make useful information available to the service. Here, many of those with criminal records can be rejected outright. Remember that potential recruits brought by politicians can hardly be rejected—this is how politics is most likely contributing to padding the service with ‘criminals’ or people who are easily convinced into committing crimes.

More important, some of those with criminal reports can be recruited with the following in mind. Their criminal background meant that they are more likely to use their experience to help the service to counter many of the tactics used by criminals in outwitting the police. A clear example here is that of Frank William Abagnale, once a notorious and hardened criminal in the US, who’s now a consultant to the US intelligence agencies. Knowing the (criminal) past of recruits will also help the service to continuously be monitoring them.

In conclusion, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and his subordinates must take these issues serious and work extra hard to re-win the confidence and trust of the public and to help create a morally responsible society. The greatest weapon that made nations such as the US powerful is TRUST. The public need to have a strong trust for people in authority. And if any authority deserves mistrust, the last among such is the police.

Idris Pacas: 020 9101533