Very few would deny the efficiency of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) when it has to act with impartiality in the execution of its duties.
Source: Iron spikes: Impairing police dignity or necessary weapon? – NewsDay Zimbabwe February 14, 2017
guest column: LEARNMORE ZUZE
The police force has demonstrated time and again that it can be effective if it wants to be. Many will recall how notorious armed robbers like Edmund Masendeke had their reign of terror crushed by a vigilant ZRP. Against this backcloth, however, it is regrettable that the ZRP’s traffic section has now earned itself the epithet of “bank tellers” owing to an inexplicable heavy presence in cities and the country’s major roads, where they inflexibly fine motorists for the slightest of traffic offences, real or imagined.
From the revered professional force of old, the ZRP has become the butt of derisive social media jokes. The country, to date, has yet to get a plausible reason for the highly-commanding presence of the police in so closely-knit areas outside a state of emergency. The essence of the police force has now been overshadowed by the negativity associated with the force.
It’s trite to say that Zimbabwe has got too many officers manning the roads. This was hardly the case in the Zimbabwe of old; the current state of affairs betrays a cancerous malady within the country in general and the police force in particular. The unnerving presence of police officers on almost every road is a symptom and not a cause in itself, but I digress.
Rewinding to years gone by, roadblocks were essentially found on the major highways and in periods of emergency.
The current establishment, where motorists can encounter a roadblock every two or three kilometres, has significantly contributed to the low perception of the police officer.
The police force has become so despised by motorists; so looked down upon by the public that there is something left of respect for a security guard than for a police officer. Visiting Zimbabwe, one is sure to come across an all-too-familiar scene of police officers haggling with motorists over trivia. This has not helped build respect for the police force and, disturbingly, police officers themselves don’t seem to care so much of the harm to the force’s reputation.
Profoundly, the ZRP’s new-found favourite weapon, namely the iron spike, seriously impairs the dignity of police officers. It speaks to a police force that has lost its commanding voice in the sight of citizens that it has now vested its authority in a weapon.
Growing up in the old Zimbabwe, an officer didn’t need to assert his authority by use of a weapon; the mere sight of an officer was enough to induce discipline.
Today, police officers have lost esteem to the extent that they can be driven around the city while clinging precariously on to the window of a kombi, with onlookers jeering. It simply tells of a force, whose brand has been gravely compromised. This is so debasing to national law enforcers.
These errant drivers have no reputation or image to protect, but the police force must understand that they have a brand to protect. Something isn’t right; this is certainly not the right image for a police force.
We knew of a police force that boasted the epithet of “friends-of-the-people”. The sight of a police officer in the central business district, struggling under the weight of a heavy and rusty iron spike, does not do well for the dignity of a police force.
Even more, that a professionally trained officer should be reduced to the level of chasing rowdy touts and kombis, spike in hand, diminishes the image of the police force in a way that puts them on an equal footing with offenders.
What with the obstinate drivers enjoying the dangerous chases with passengers as collateral damage.
The ZRP certainly needs advisers; it is doing great violence to its own name in its quest to fight these offenders.
Nothing, not even money, is worth the embarrassment that the force is subjecting itself to. Of course, there may be compelling reasons to bring to book these lawbreakers, but the manner of enforcement is inflicting more harm than good. Respect for the force is shrinking at an alarming rate. Even children in society have one or two unsavoury things to say about the police force and who can fault them? They hear of police scorn daily. The admission by Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri that some are corrupt within his ranks captures what became known long ago by citizens of this nation.
Even more, the use of the metal spike to deflate vehicle tyres owes its existence and continued use to the fact that no one has challenged its constitutionality. No person, whatever their capacity, has the right to damage the property of another. That a police officer is on national duty does not absolve them from being charged under the offence for, it is unlawful to damage people’s vehicles. This is a crime clearly spelt out in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
This, however, is not to support lawlessness, but so much about the dignity of the police force. The ZRP can employ more decent and effective ways in dealing with delinquent drivers. It is in this spirit that the national law enforcement agency must be implored to preserve the little that remains of its dignity.
Hanging on kombi windows, running around the city with rusty spikes, majoring on trivial offences and taking bribes is the hallmark of a police force fighting its good name. There should be a better way of resolving traffic offences. A police force needs not harm its pride in such a degrading manner.
The spike weapon is a throwback to medieval policing methods and, in all seriousness, the ZRP must rethink use of this degrading tool.
Learnmore Zuze is a law officer and writes in his own capacity. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org