Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Making our police service more productive

Can anybody sincerely spell out the benefits of the numerous road blocks in the city of Accra beyond it creating avoidable traffic jams, delaying the duration people get to reach their destinations and offering the men in black an opportunity to engage in some chit chatting and ‘beg’ for one Kufuor dollar or more?

As I indicated last week, the police force is one institution’s whose personnel deserve our thanks and commendation for the great work they are doing despite the constraints. It is however also true that whatever the limitations are and the level of their performance does not place them at a level that as citizens we can find acceptable or appreciable.

In a discussion, as I always love to do, with some friends who include Chartered Management Accountants, Senior Management Executives in our financial institutions, Mining and Electrical Engineers, Marketing Executives, and the number two at a well performing State institution, it was generally agreed that our police force needs reform. Serious reform that will inure to the benefit of the personnel themselves and the citizenry, positioning the police service as a Customer-focussed, result-driven, friendly and attractive when it comes to ‘graduates search for jobs’.

For many of this people, one or two police officers have showed glimpses of a good police officer, but that cannot be generalised, and the negativity that is used to describe the police service and its personnel should make the leadership of the service and the supervising ministry worried.

It is the near ‘hopelessness’ of the police man [salary, accommodation, general service conditions, outlook etc] that has led to the actions of a few personnel and the general conclusion that police personnel just love to take bribes. The point is that the policeman, just like many other professionals, simply wants survival and where things are difficult, why would you not take advantage of a given opportunity to make a request for some coins?

In any case, is it not the case that our wealthy members of society or those who are well to do are the ones who continue to get richer because they have the resources to ensure proper and adequate ‘facilitation’ in bidding for contracts or any supply business for that matter? Good thing is, this does not take place within the full glare of the public.

I have personally had very good relations with police officers, and even for those who are unleashed unto the streets at night to wreck pain on late night road users, I am rather sympathetic towards them and really feel the pain they have to go through. They are out there, especially in these times of bad weather, working to protect us.

And that is why I am of the view that they should rather re-strategise their night operations to benefit us the more and also make the time spent at night by the policemen worth it. The road blocks are simply not effective and might rather be contributing to the worsening attack on innocent people.

This is what I mean. Between two and six, sometimes eight policemen, occasionally supported by military colleagues are at a barrier. For every car that gets there, they look inside with their torch, occasionally they’ll engage in some conversation with you and where there are other motives, they’ll rather concentrate on your insurance & road worthy sticker. And that could spell you some doom at night.

As this continues, a long, frustrating and boring traffic builds up, with almost everybody ‘cursing’ after passing the barrier. Hardly do the policemen engage in any search of the car for weapons or dangerous implements. It’s as if the policemen themselves know that the criminals knowing that they are on that route won’t pass there, and also that for many of the criminals they have other modus operandi.

While this is ongoing, another group of security officers who are supposed to be on patrol would decide to conduct snap checks along their operational route, and sometimes I am sure they even go out of range. Those checks simply repeat what their colleagues are doing elsewhere on the same road.

While this two groups of people are engaged in their services, the real criminals have struck attacking people whose arrival home have been so much delayed by the police traffic jams. The result is that at the time the criminals struck in front of their gates or vicinity their neighbours are already asleep or can’t hear their shouts for help.

You see, these ‘boys’ will either struck while you are waiting for the gate to be opened, or when you get down to open the gate. Other times, they cross you or approach your car when you slow down in a curve and attack.

In the midst of the confusion the last thing that occurs to many is the option of calling up the police. Why? Because for a lot of people they don’t remember the police first, but their friends, relatives or neighbours. And that’s a bad reputation the police must work to change, a project the Police PR Unit started some years back and I was very instrumental in that exercise.

The other reason why victims of such attacks don’t bother calling the police is simply because they do not have the numbers of the police readily to dial. Do you have the number off hand? And when one of the many friends, relatives etc that you call manage to reach a police station [because there’s no common number to reach the police, you can only reach specific stations, and don’t bother calling the police information room], s/he is likely to be told to call another station because it’s their jurisdiction.

Unless you are plain lucky, you’ll be lucky to be given the number of the recommended station.

“But please, can’t I get a mobile number for the patrol team in the area, or reach them for us?”

“I said that area is not our jurisdiction” will be the likely response.

So, what is the use of the patrol team if e cannot reach them when we are under attack? Shouldn’t we rather concentrate on releasing the security personnel unto the roads and communities with an effective means of reaching them all at the same time from the control room so they rush in when a call for help comes in?

I can sight countless examples of situations in which people were attacked and the attackers could have been arrested if the victims were able to reach the police early and where contacted if the police were proactive and alive to their responsibilities.

Once when I closed from work after midnight, and together with my colleagues including a lady, we were attacked by a gang of four boys wielding cutlasses and other implements. Not prepared to lose my brand new laptop and my photographers camera and other belongings, myself and my driver rose to the occasion and physically fought the criminals, despite their cutlasses.

In addition to a deep cut on the head of one of them with a big stone, we also shattered the back windscreen of the taxi they were using. While trying to give them a chase, we came across a police patrol van and stopped to let them know we are chasing some criminals who are on the same road with a shattered back windscreen.

This big stomach police officer just looked at me and asked did they take anything away? Shocked, I said, we fought them and they are ahead, will you please go with us? His response was that I should give them the taxi number they will give them a chase later, but it is likely they are gone by now.

I wasn’t shocked but my colleagues were.

Only last two Thursdays, one of my colleagues was attacked in front of her gate around 9.35pm. Shocked and confused she called a number of people including me for help and it was like a third world war reaching the police. When the call goes through, there will be no response and it was simply impossible to reach any patrol team because we did not know the number.

Indeed, it appeared that only two of us, when we finally grouped in front of her house, who had tried reaching the police. The rest had long written them off. And the interesting thing was that, had we been able to reach a patrol team, or rather, if we had an effective policing system with a reliable patrol team, the two criminals would have been arrested.

This is because, in their haste to run away with the car, they drove into a marshy, inaccessible area, getting themselves locked up. But the lady and her sister could not do anything or dare getting close. They finally abandoned the car and fled into the swamp.

Do we then have a police force that can be relied upon?

Aside my earlier recommendation for a comprehensive review and reform (totally) of our police service, [a better and more comprehensive one than the Justice Archer reform], we need a better, reliable, effective and efficient communications system for the police service.

In an age where mobile telephony is outstripping fixed line usage everywhere including Ghana, we must demand of our Interior Ministry and the Police Service to insist on a maximum four-digit call letters (numbers) from all the service providers. That number can be dialled from any of the networks including the fixed line and shall be toll free.

With the system well developed, when the call is received at the national operating room, it will be swiftly routed to the region or divisional HQ concerned for quick action. This maximum four-digit number will be easier to remember and will make it possible for people to reach the police easier and faster.

Off course, if we are able to reach the police and the personnel in the operating room still have the same attitudes, then we will be back at square one. We’ll need some orientation and also a proper communication system [motorala etc] with the patrol team in order to be able reach them with details on the caller’s location etc.

The mobile numbers will not have any reason to synchronise their systems for an easy dial for customers. There are some 191, 192 etc numbers that one cannot even remember off hand which goes where because they have not been actively and well promoted. But even that, when you call it takes heaven to open the gates for rain in the desert for it to be picked.

The police service needs an effective call centre with smart persons who are customer focussed and will get the information, sieve it off quickly and pass it on to the appropriate quarters for urgent action. When we do that, and the police become more proactive, friendly and helpful, and have their uniforms changed to a more humane outfit, maybe like the officers dressed, we’ll be heading somewhere.


Anonymous said...

Good article but i think it's time for Ghanaians to take control of their destiny...The government can not do it all, so my take is that citizens of different residents organise through monthly contributions to pay for police personel to guad thier areas also the different mobile phone companies in Ghana who definately are making profit should help with the tollfree numbers you talked about. I believe this will go a long way to help the police to work more effectively....The Ghana government should encourage ghanaians to be self employed especially farming because A hungry man is an angry man.

Marisela said...

Thanks for writing this.

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