The police and professionalism
The case between Ali Baba Cham alias Killa Ace has again revealed the challenges that citizens are facing dealing with the members of the Gambia Police Force. It is unacceptable that police officers – hired and trained to protect Human Rights – can be involved in violating the very rights they are sworn to protect.
According to my investigations, Ali was approached by a man in plain clothes and ordered to give them his bag for them to conduct a search. He asked why they should search his bag and the man replied that he was an undercover police officer. At this juncture, Ali asked him to produce his identification.
This was how the altercation started as Ali refused to be searched until he had verified whether the man was really who he claimed to be. The officer took this as an affront and then they decided to arrest Ali for obstructing their work. If this is exactly how it went down, then the police were wrong and could have averted any problem simply by showing him their identification. I am still waiting for my friend, Police PRO Lamin Njie to get back to me on the details of the case.
It is common knowledge that there are a lot of criminals who can – and may – impersonate police officers in order to harass people. Not long ago, the police arrested a man who they said goes around presenting himself as someone he is not in order to deceive people and go away with their properties. Who is to say that no one is currently impersonating police officers? Thus, Ali was right in demanding for identification from a stranger claiming to be an officer.
The truth is that, the officer should not have waited for Ali to ask for identification. He should have identified himself immediately he wanted to search the bag of a citizen. That is just what is expected from a police officer. It is wrong to present yourself as an undercover officer but refuse to identify yourself as an officer. In fact, that is why the police and all other security agents are given uniforms and identification cards, including badges.
One can understand the need to go undercover in this criminal world, but there must be rules governing that and one of them must be that they should identify themselves when they wish to search or arrest a citizen. Remember, the law talks about presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Thus, Ali must be presumed to be innocent until a competent authority – a court of law – declares him guilty or otherwise.
It is a given fact that some of our police officers still need a lot of training on how to handle citizens. This, in my opinion, is no fault of theirs but one has to look at the foundation.
The initial reason for forming the Gambia Police Force during the colonial era was to tame the population so that the colonial masters could control them easily. Most African countries are still battling with changing the mentality of both the police officers and the public towards their work.
The role of the police is to protect lives and properties of all citizens. Thus, there are rules guiding the conduct of their work. The time has come for them to have a new perspective on the job which will ultimately transform how the public also view them. That is what will create a good working relationship between them and the people they serve.
About a year ago, the then minister of the Interior, Mr Mai Ahmad Fatty proposed to change the name of the police from The Gambia Police Force – which is a little authoritarian as that is what would have served the purpose of the colonialists – to The Gambia Police Services. This was welcomed as it would have changed the outlook of the men and women who bravely go in the streets everyday – with very little pay – to protect the lives and properties of the citizens.
At that time, I wrote an article entitled ‘What Is in a Name’ in which I argued that changing the name would not be enough. The Gambia Police Force needs more training and more facilities in order to do their work properly. The previous government neglected the police for far too long. As such, that neglect must have had a negative impact on their training and the enthusiasm to serve.
It is my advice that the current government pays more attention to the training and improvement of service of the Gambia Police Force. Of course, we hear every now and then trainings and workshops on Human Rights for the police but that is not enough. The police are still seen by many as agents who are always ready to use force to subdue people. This perception must change and it will not be easy; or quick.
I have seen many people on social media saying that even in America police treat people in this manner. What I always say to such comments is that America is not our exemplar. We have to chart our own course. If America is doing something, that does not make it right. Right and wrong are like blood; it doesn’t matter who spills it or from whom it is spilt, it is always red. Similarly, what is right is right and what is wrong is always wrong regardless of by whom or where it takes place.
We must first ensure that our gallant officers are well paid; and their working conditions improved. Then we give them the necessary training to protect Human Rights – of all, not only a cross section of the society. This we can do and must begin to do now.
I therefore call on the concerned authorities to put mechanisms in place which will help every officer follow due process in their work and ensure that the Rule of Law is followed. In that way, we can earn ourselves a respectable place in the world as a country that respects human rights of all its citizens.
Citizens must also make every effort to understand that the police are here for our protection. Thus, every citizen is expected to corporate fully with the law enforcement officers. When a police officer asks one to comply with certain rules, the duty of the citizen is to obey and follow the law as no one is above the law. We are all under the same law. It is however expected that the police officers should be in a position to exercise more patience because of their training.
So, with concerted efforts from everyone – the police and the citizens – we must end police brutality. Now!