Your predecessor, Lamin Njie, now a deputy commander at the community policing unit, was not quite popular among Gambian journalists who said he wasn’t always easy to work with. You are new and relatively unknown, could you tell us about yourself?
I will first start with that perception about my predecessor. I tell people, if am not one of the best PROs I will be questioned because I learned from the best. I served as a deputy PRO under Chief Supt Lamin Njie. I served under David Kujabi, and Supt Foday Conta. Lamin was not difficult to work with because I worked under him. I learned a lot from him. He is a leader. And he is one of the best PROs the Gambia Police Force ever had. I think people tend to lose sight of how busy the nature of our job is, and maybe sometimes we are not always reachable, and that could be misconstrued, but he did very well during his tenure. I’m Binta Njie-Jatta. I’m 32. I’m married to Dr Borry Jatta with a son, he is seven. I attended Tobacco Road Lower Basic School, Albion Primary School, Reverend JC Faye Memorial School. I also attended Stratford College of Management. I went to the Nigerian Television College in Jos, Plateau State. I also did a BSc in criminology and security studies at the National Open University of Nigeria [NOUN]. [I] did few trainings home and abroad with the FBI, and with the Swedish police in Sonora. I served as deputy PRO with those former three PROs, and now the first female PRO of the Gambia Police Force.
With those qualifications, you could have worked almost anywhere and be well-off. Why did you opt for a career with the police?
My love for The Gambia is just amazing, but I also wanted to play my quota in national development, and I felt the best way to do that is to be part of a system. I’ve had a few encounters with police officers before I became one, and I tend to have a perception about them. I went to the Bundung station and had an encounter. Fortunately, I met their officer commanding operations at the time Dembo Jammeh, now retired. His professionalism taught me something different about the police. It taught me that one experience with a police officer should not give me the reason to say that this is how all police officers behave because he was so professional. I wanted to have an impact, and I felt it would be best to be part of that system to effect that change, and also contribute my quota to ensure that some of the things I saw as loopholes are covered. That was how I joined. I trained as corporal, and graduated as a sergeant.
Your appointment literally broke the glass ceiling as the first female spokeswoman of the Gambia Police Force. Personally, what did it represent for you?
The police admin has seen the potential in female officers. As a result, we now have the first female commissioner of operations, Commissioner Sirreh Jabang. It’s nothing new now for the police to appoint women in key positions. It is part of the reforms structure of the GPF. I have a lot of people I can look up to like for example, Commissioner Sirreh Jabang, Commissioner Lala Camara, and the previous commissioners that served in the Gambia Police Force, especially Commissioner Aminata Ndure. Sometimes there is that stereotype; can you do this? You are a woman! You are married, can you handle the pressure? But I’ve learnt from the best because I have female officers in key positions who I am looking up to.
And what do you hope to achieve during your time here?
So many things, but the key thing, as far as I’m concerned, is that fact that the police are doing so much, yet very little is talked about that. What many peole see are the loopholes in policing, the flaws in our operations and in our activities. But the police are doing so much. I want to change that perception. I want the Gambians to see a professional police force. A police force that is here to serve and protect the citizens, and residents of The Gambia. That is very key to me, and dear to my heart because it is also to correct some of our wrongs as we are not a perfect institution. We are learning, we are growing.
Let me ask you a serious issue. What is the outcome of the investigation into the two PIU officers who recorded themselves celebrating teargas fired at Darboe’s house in the aftermath of last year’s election?
Okay. As an institution that is meant to protect the lives and properties of people, we are not expected to be the very people that would violate those rights. As a result, the GPF has a human rights and professional standing unit. Any activity, any action or inaction of law enforcement agencies, the Gambia Police Force in particular, that unit makes sure they take over those responsibilities and ensure that those violations carried out by those officers are held accountable. Once that is reported, investigations are carried out, and actions are taken in line with our conducts and the laws of the land. So yes, although those investigations are yet to be completed, once they are, what is necessary would be duly meted out on them.
Many people said that the GPF is often manipulated by the ruling party or those close to the political power base. Is that a fair observation?
You know, I think people have a right to their opinion, but what we are mandated to do as a law enforcement agency is to ensure we work in accordance with the law, and do our best in changing that perception which like I said, is very dear to my office and my PR team. We want to ensure that people change that perception about us, to see us as not partisan.
You arrested and detained comedian Muhammed Darboe for having a go at the First Lady. You called UDP’s Ebrima Dibba for questioning for criticising Barrow. But NPP supporters, like for example, Baba Jah, often hurl insults at people like UDP leader Ousainu Darboe, yet the police never questioned them. Can you see why many think you are partisan?
Not only is it against our laws and principles as human beings, but also our values and culture and religions for people to go out there and slander, castigate, insult or say things that would stain a person’s reputation or even kind of bully them. The GFP would not encourage that, does not encourage that, and should not encourage that. It is against also the Public Order Act to do those kind of activites and use abusive words on people. Really, we discourage those kinds of actions whether it is against a politician, or even a child. It is not appropriate. It is not correct. And rule for one should be rule for all.
Cadet ASP, do you accept that there has been a significant erosion of public confidence in the police?
The police, like any other institution [in this country], is growing. We have our faults. I cannot sit here and paint a perfect picture of the GPF. That would not be professional of me. One thing I know is, the current command is doing all within its powers to ensure that we act in professional manners in the execution of our duties, to be able to restore that public confidence that we have lost, and build on the one we have built. We are not perfect. It is not a perfect institution, but we are growing. We’ve come up with a lot of reform strategies to ensure that those things we were doing wrongly are rectified. Because you can’t also have public confidence, or preach people to trust you when you are not doing things that are not in accordance with that. So, we are doing our best in that area to ensure that our actions commensurate as a law enforcement agency.
People say that the police used the Public Order Act as a Trojan horse to stifle dissent
People have a right to their opinion. We can’t condemn the right of people to express their opinion. However, that same Public Order Act has guiding principles on how people should go about these kinds of processions. I think as Gambians, we could sit around the table and discuss certain things. Yes, some of these concerns are very genuine, but better measures could be taken to address them. It’s not just to take to the streets to express our frustrations over them. If we are complaining of corruption, unemployment, high cost of living, how do we expect investors to come to The Gambia or even Gambians with so much potential – to come home and play their quota in national development when they are not sure of what’s going to happen next. Because who wants to invest in a country where people want to come out almost every day to protest something they are not happy about? I’m not saying it’s not correct to protest, but better mechanisms could be put in place to table our frustrations and chart a way forward. The truth is that the police are not that much resourced, and we want to protect the lives and properties of all Gambians and residents of The Gambia. So, how can we do this when all the time we go out there to give security to protesters every now and then when we could divert those resources into more practical things to protect the lives and properties of those same Gambians who want to come out and protest. So, when we say no to these kinds of protests, it’s not because we want to deprive them of their fundamental human rights to assembly, no. We put it [requests for protests] through a test and screening process, and if we feel this has a security threat or implication, that is when we say no.
In terms of reforms, in your estimation, how different is the GPF today from the days of ex-president Yahya Jammeh?
Well, I wouldn’t want to specify on regimes. I would want to specify on… perhaps generations if you like. Recently, the GPF have really transformed in a lot of ways. You can agree with me, it used to be believed to be a dumpsite for many where people without hope, people without jobs, people without qualifications rushed to. Nowadays, you see, we have experts, bankers, medical doctors, we have experts in different fields. I’m a criminologist. Our IGP is a barrister. Our AIG admin is also a criminologist, he has double master’s. Those things have changed. You don’t expect people that educated, that exposed, that experienced, to behave the way it used to be when police was perceived to be a dumpsite for people. Well, those that came during those days also played their part. But like I said, it is an institution that is evolving, we are growing… there’s a lot of transformation.
The PIU still use excessive force against unarmed civilians during protests. How is that undermining the reforms that you alluded to?
Okay. What the Command did is to conduct regular trainings on public order management, and train personnel to know when to use force, how to use force, and all of that. I can tell you; a lot will change. A lot has changed, and some of those things that were happening will no longer happen. We will not sit and watch our people that are meant to protect the people to be the very ones that violate their rights.
On a lighter note, do you agree that your appointment was a bad omen because many people observed that the aftermath followed a spate of murders in the country?
[Laughs]. Unfortunately, I shouldn’t have even laughed about this. It’s not funny. I’m a mother. I’m a woman. When there is no peace in a country, women are mostly affected. So, I don’t think any woman, mother or not, would feel happy to see the citizens dying. I think it’s just an unfortunate coincidence, and it gave me sleepless nights, having to work day in day out, to have witnessed five homicide cases within a period of two days. I’m not going to say I was traumatised, but I also felt the pain people would feel, and my condolences to the bereaved families…
What is the definitive position of the police as far as the issue of the Tuk-Tuk is concerned?
Talks are underway. I wouldn’t be able to talk on that until that is concluded. But I think also on our roads we need to change our attitudes. Even if we are not conscious of our own safety, we should be conscious of the safety and wellbeing of other road users. We will not shift the blame on the citizens. We are the ones who took up the responsibility to protect people, be it on the roads or in their homes.
Last week, you announced the launch of operation ‘Routine Patrol’. How will it reduce crime-related offenses in the country?
It has really done a tremendously positive impact. It’s not just patrolling; we interact with the people, we want to know their needs, their constraints on the road, and probably tell us where we are not doing very well so we improve on those because we are growing, we are learning and want to be better. So, [operation] Routine Patrol, would in time serve as a deterrent to people who want to do certain things on our roads. We realised that most of the things that have been happening, like the murder cases, are all domestic. We don’t want those things to graduate into streets. The people who commit these crimes, all passed through those streets. So, we do the stop-and-search, foot and bicycle patrols. We suspended police checkpoints with mobile patrols. These measures have really helped in reducing the rate at which crime occurs and helped us know the need of our people out there.
Are you certain that the IGP has made sure that all the unofficial checkpoints remain shut down?
Through the mobile traffic commissioner, he has gone on his country-wide survey to see where there should be checkpoints and where he feels there should be mobile patrols to ensure that what is being removed is replaced with something more efficient to ensure safety on our roads. Because you also don’t want to remove those checkpoints and report high accident rates and cause more hazard to the lives of the road users and their properties. We think a lot has been done in that aspect to reduce the number of checkpoints. Sometimes people say the police Command came out with a presser to say the number of checkpoints should be reduced, but we count 20+ checkpoints on our roads. But you realise these unofficial checkpoints come on a need-to basis. They’re discretional. If we feel the need to bring these checkpoints, we do it. Sometimes you see checkpoints because we are looking for a person of interest, someone we want to apprehend. Even if that happens, the general public have the right to complain to the Office of IGP through his commissioner administration, or even come to the IGP’s office because he has an open door policy and that issue would be sorted. We are going to do our best to ensure that we be what the public needs us to be, maybe not what they want us to be because sometimes that could be subjective.
The IGP also ordered the closure of some police stations and posts for being unhygienic. These stations are important in these communities. Are they being refurbished or are they going to remain permanently closed?
…if you are there to protect the lives and properties of people and your onw life is not protected, you will not be able to do your functions. As a result, some of those community members pleaded because they see the significance in the need to maintain those posts. So, some of them were designed different locations to be built. Some are under renovation. In the case of Barra, a new structure is being erected. The hygiene of our personnel, their conditions, is significant to the police command because that’s the only way they can also feel motivated to carry out their duties.