Remarks by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri that the private media empathises with perpetrators of violence, particularly against the police, are unfortunate.
The Commissioner-General’s statement is both inaccurate and subjective as the private media has always reported on what is happening in society, including the good work done by police officers such as the arrest of criminals and the protection of citizens.
What the police chief, in his one-sided accusation, fails to acknowledge is the impact of the image the police presents to the public, which, as the head of this important institution, Chihuri must work on.
Chihuri correctly notes that:
“As police officers, we have the constitutional mandate of maintaining law and order in the country and this can only be achieved through maximum co-operation by members of the public.”
But the top cop needs to be reminded that the public’s cooperation comes at a price –that of a good image from the ZRP.
There must be goodwill between the public and the police for maximum cooperation between the two parties to deal effectively with criminal elements in our society.
The Commissioner-General assumes the high esteem he holds for his charges is shared by the general public.
Such thinking is based on top management’s pride, arrogance and confidence among other things. But this can be dangerously at variance with the current image, the one actually held by outsiders about the ZRP.
There have been numerous complaints from the public about corruption within the police force, selective application of the law and heavy-handedness when dealing with suspects, some of whom have turned out to be innocent citizens.
Suspects have appeared in court with injuries they claim to be a result of beatings while in police custody and we have had instances where baton-wielding or armed police round up and harrass citizens to investigate a crime.
The result of such conduct by the law enforcers attracts attention and when it is reported in the media, those in charge of the police should not cry foul. They should be reminded that the media would be playing its watchdog role.
Instead of blaming the media, Chihuri must work on the image of the ZRP so that both the public and the media regard the law-enforcers with respect.
This does not require politicking; rather it needs strategic vision about the long-term direction the institution has to take if it is to build a solid image and reputation.
First and foremost the Commissioner-General needs to understand that a good image and reputation promotes good relations between the ZRP and the public, including the private media that he seems to loathe.
Chihuri needs to be advised that attacking the media does not build the police force’s positive image, only solid, positive action from the law-enforcement institution will do that.
He should be made aware of the fact that good institutional image cannot be built overnight but, on the contrary, could be lost overnight.
He should be educating cops about the importance of creating goodwill between the police force, the media and the public rather than instilling in them the false notion that the private media is enemy number one.
The ball is firmly in his court as the police chief and he has no one to blame if the police force is perceived badly by the publics through their actions.
A good starting point for Chihuri should be bringing out the long-forgotten Police Service Charter and to ensure that it is followed religiously.