HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsWho will police the police?

Who will police the police?

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Yesterday we reported that a commuter omnibus hit a Harare man who was crossing a busy street in the capital’s central business district after two baton-wielding Zimbabwe Republic Police traffic officers smashed its windscreen for allegedly contravening traffic laws.

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The man, believed to be a war veteran, died on the spot and the two traffic police officers disappeared on realising they had caused a fatal accident.

What a shame! This case is one of the many that have left innocent pedestrians dead or maimed as abuse of power by uniformed police officers gets out of hand.

In April this year another commuter omnibus ran over a woman at Harare’s Copacabana bus terminus under similar circumstances.

By police abuse we mean the inappropriate and illegal use of police powers to coerce, harass, arrest and assault members of our community. Police abuse has in the past also occurred in the form of illegal roadblocks and illegal searches. Victims of police abuse are often the usual targets of institutional discrimination – anyone who protests against the system. It can however, happen to anybody. The abuse occurs often enough that almost everyone knows someone who has been harassed, beaten or arrested.

Because of abuse and lack of accountability to the community, many people no longer see the police as public servants. They are seen as part of the power structure in a country that oppresses them. The problem is worsened by the fact that our political leaders rarely speak out against this violence and sometimes give a wink and a nod when it happens blaming the victims.

It is our contention that this abuse and other forms of criminal injustice pose a threat to the foundations of our democracy. It adds to the frustration and hopelessness of people who already feel abandoned and serves to further undermine the trust that citizens have in their government.

We believe this is happening because the police have bad policies and internal cultures. This could mean that their hiring policies are flawed. They do not do enough checking of the backgrounds and complete psychological tests on officer candidates. It appears the force have a habit of hiring officers who have a “power-hungry and gung-ho mentality”.

It appears that instead of being trained to deal with people in a respectful manner they operate under the assumption that everybody is a potential criminal. Or the police force has vague “use of force” policies that allow officers to interpret them the way they want. The disappearance of the two officers from the scene of the accident shows that there is no accountability when an officer violates the Police Act.

Clearly the police cannot police themselves. The bulk of citizens’ complaints of excessive use of force end up in “no action”.

We believe there must be quality control. Bad officers with many complaints must be dealt with. This unwritten “Blue Code” of silence which means police officers cover up for each other does not work or help society.

We urge government to intervene in this matter immediately, ensure that all police personnel involved in this incident are punished and the victims’ families are duly compensated for their losses.

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