EDITORIAL COMMENT: Police better equipped to fight crime

Source: EDITORIAL COMMENT: Police better equipped to fight crime | Herald (Opinion)

Crime hits all citizens, directly and indirectly, directly when you are assaulted, robbed, raped or have your property stolen, but also indirectly, when you are afraid to walk on the streets or when businesses or markets have to spend too much money on security or when investors are worried about opening new businesses.

As President Mnangagwa noted on Friday, when criminals are active, the whole society is damaged, not just those attacked by the criminals, and to a large extent the whole of society has to be active in preventing crime and making sure crime does not pay.

In the frontline against criminals are the police. The President noted several important factors. 

First the police have to be properly equipped. Since he was speaking at the handover of the latest batch of 82 vehicles, which followed a very recent delivery of 50 new cars, he is more than alive to this need and his Government is now doing something about it. 

Obviously a lot more batches of vehicles are needed, but the supply chain is now in place.

The second point the President made was for the equipment to be used. He made it clear that when the Government makes the police mobile he wants to see this mobility and the restoration of routine patrolling in both urban and rural areas, and he wanted to see both day and night patrols.

This means police have to be far more active than just sitting in police stations and police posts waiting for a report to be made. They need to be out in their communities deterring crime and being able to react very quickly when a crime does take place. Here vehicles are important, but are not absolutely vital for all patrolling. 

In many cases bicycles and foot patrols are better, since the police on the beat can talk to people and will notice a lot more. Vehicle patrols will back them up and of course vehicles are vital when a phone call is received saying that robbers have broken into a house. So it needs a combination when the police return more actively to the streets and rural roads.

A third point made by President Mnangagwa was the need for the general public to be supportive. At the very least they need to stand back and not harbour criminals or hide criminals. Better would be helping the police, passing on information when they know criminal activity is taking place. 

We frequently see police reports that start with the telling phrase “following a tip-off” and then go on to describe a successful operation. If more people were willing to pass on information, then obviously the police job becomes easier. 

They still have to go into danger and put in a lot of hard work to arrest the criminals, but at least they have been given a decent starting point by some public spirited person.

A fourth point stressed by the President was the need for the police to be squeaky clean themselves. Until the advent of the Second Republic there was not just a high level of tolerance for corruption, but even active planned corruption. 

That was changed swiftly as the new administration took over, but far too many police officers had spent far too many years in a force where bribe taking, at least for minor offences, was the norm. 

The culture is changing, but no one can pretend it is eradicated.

Here the need for active public support is required. The police have put in place a number of measures to make it very easy to make a report of this sort of thing. People need to use them. We all need to remember that the person paying the bribe is just as guilty as the person taking the bribe.

Sometimes the bribery is worse, with police officers passing on warnings to organised criminals that some operation is planned. Detectives are aware of this, and it could even be in their own ranks, so the successful operations tend to have limited numbers in the know, which first hopefully excludes the corrupt, but just as importantly makes it easy to identify the corrupt.

Besides this petty corruption there is also, fortunately fare rarer, cases of police taking an active part in serious crime. This can be expected, since if say one person in 10 000 is a potential armed robber then the police have a handful of potential armed robbers.

All that is required is to remember that handful exist and suspicious behaviour needs to be checked out.

But as the President noted, the police cannot ignore their own share of criminals and need to be just as active when hunting down their own as when they operate in society.

Of course temptation exists. And this ties in with the final point the President made, that the Government sees the problems. Police housing is variable and not all police even have official housing. So the pressure the President is putting on the responsible people in his Government to move this off the back burner and give it the priority it deserves is welcome. 

The first target should be accommodation for all officers, especially as they can be transferred easily and should be transferred several times in their career. 

As this is achieved much of the “native constable” housing of colonial times really does need to be upgraded into something that the family of a 21st century professional police officer who needed O’ Level to get into the force in the first place expects. It does not have to be luxury, but does need to be middle income.

At the same time skills need to be upgraded and proper equipment put in place. Commissioner General Godwin Matanga noted the need for armoured vehicles when going after armed robbers. Presumably something that is bullet-proof when his detectives come under fire. 

Many police forces now have suitable vehicles, which can also securely carry weapons that might be needed to such a shoot out. 

They do not need to be army personnel carriers able to cope with heavy infantry weapons, but a modified police car with the modern materials will give excellent protection against small arms fire.

Comm-Gen Matanga noted that equipping specialised detective units with vehicles had already made a large difference in arrest rates, so showing the Second Republic’s decision to go beyond talk and actually buy cars was necessary and useful. 

And once you get to the position where those who commit serious crime are likely to be in the police cells fairly quickly, then you get to the stage where people stop committing serious crime, since these sort of criminals do it for money, not for long jail sentences.