Thank you very much for giving us this opportunity to be able to talk to the general public about the Gambia Police Force and the general activity of policing in this country. Basically, the functions of the police force are the maintenance of law and order, prosecution of offenders, protection of lives and properties, and arrest of people who break the law. We are doing everything we can to make sure that we fulfill this national duty; though it is challenging because the size of our population is far bigger than the size of the Gambia Police Force. We are, however, doing very well and we have a management that is working tirelessly towards attaining a crime-free Gambia. We are doing some capacity building, resource mobilisation and also the motivation of our personnel to ensure that we effectively accomplished the task given to us as a police force.
You have just talked about the growing population of the country as in contrast to the size of the police force. Doesn’t that show how big a challenge is it to make Gambia a crime-free state?
It is a challenge but the good thing is that we have a way out. That is why we have been embarking on community policing- it was basically a strategy we deployed to ensuring that the gap that exists is bridged. We mobilised the partnership of various communities to do the police work and we make them understand that the police work is not only restricted to us the police officers but everybody. We know that when we harness the participation of everybody in policing, we are sure of success in all our activities and through this spirit, we have achieved a lot of things. So community policing has been our greatest success so far.
But attaining absolute success in the community policing will be pretty tough too because the people-police relations are sometimes a pretty messy affair, right?
I don’t think so. On a general basis, the police and the people have a very good relationship. Unlike years ago when the police were at times perceived as enemies, the police are now seen as the custodian of peace and saviours. This is because the general public has come to believe that the police are here to serve us- protect our lives and properties and our interest of being able to live in peace and harmony. And since this understanding has dawned on people, they have come out to support the police in serving them. A lot of the successes that we have today are a result of the support we are having from the general public.
But there are instances of rift between people and police when they attempt to arrest certain people in some communities, aren’t there?
Yes, but that is normal. In every institution there are challenges and this is one of our challenges too. You have to have a thick skin to be able to carry out some of your functions. If you are, for instance, confronted with arresting someone who is a breadwinner in a family and knowing that that family will struggle if you take the person away, do you leave him/her to get away with it or hold the person accountable to the crime he/she is alleged to have committed? It could be quite emotional but the person has committed an offence and he or she should be answerable to the law. Deep inside you as a police officer, you may feel bad but you have to do it- this is why people often say “police have no friend”. So sometimes, emotion might get in the way but we have a responsibility to the Gambian people and that is to maintain law and order.
Does your community policing sensitisation cover the entire country?
Yes, we have a very robust community policing strategy and we have extended our reach to all most every nook and cranny of this country. This is why a lot of the crimes that are heard of sometimes ago are not heard of now. The police members are not present everywhere but we are able to extend our reach through the participation of the people themselves. We have seen communities come together and form their own groups to take on certain forms of criminal activities in their communities.
Well, we don’t call them vigilantes because these are not people who cultivate an occasional habit of doing things at will- we train them to be able to do the job effectively and they follow the right procedures in helping us do our job. We teach them what they can do and what they can’t because one can’t arrest and lock another person up on the ground that he or she is partnering with the police in combating crime. We also share with them the importance of their partnership to the peace and stability of the country. But I must also say that we have never had a situation where particular community members, in the quest to helping the people, arrest and detain or lock up someone. In fact, we are gaining a lot from the people-police partnership- there were instances when a particular community member would build a police station for us or help us with needed facilities. All these are happening because of our good relations with the people.
Again, the concept of community policing is not only for the communities to alert the police when there is problem or help us find an offender, but it encourages community participation in solving their own problem. If a case is not serious like murder, rape and other major ones, we engage the community elders to talk about it and find a way out. And even after such community negotiations are going on, the police are always to touch to ensure that the matter at hand is resolve to the satisfaction all parties involved.
But there has, hasn’t there, some cases of people also revolting against the actions of the police in certain places?
Well, in my time as a police officer, I can only think of one where the people in one community wanted to appeal against the arrest of someone and it resulted in some unnecessary argument which they were not happy about. The community members were not happy with the conduct of the police officer handling that case but they were very content with the presence of the police in their midst in trying to solve the issue.
But there are often complaints from the people that the police are often foul-mouthed when they arresting an offender or sometimes too aggressive in their conduct.
I won’t say no, but that will also have to be in very rare occasions. We can’t say we are a force of perfect people- we also have our weaknesses. This would often happen when officers allow their emotions control them- so we have instances when a police officer will assault someone verbally or physically but these instances of police misconduct are dealt with immediately as they occur.
What would be the fate of an officer who slaps or kicks someone in handcuffs?
Unlike members of the general public, when a police officer is found to have assaulted someone, you face two charges. You will be charged in the courts according to the laws of the country and you will be charged for misconduct under the police. In other words, a police officer who assaulted someone in the cause of his or her duty faces the prospects of double punishment.
But despite this “impressive” outcome from community policing, making Gambia a crime-free state at a time when virtually the whole of sub-region is facing threats of terrorism, drug trafficking, might require tough preparation, right?
The Gambia has a good strength in ensuring a crime-free state despite all the challenges you are talking about in that our people are very peace-loving. They won’t hesitate to collaborate with the police against matters that threaten our security as a people. And again the police will also always reach out to them through the mass media and talk to them about various security challenges as we might be faced with. If you look at our statistics, most of the crimes that we have registered are theft and assault- these are things that happen everywhere. We have very rare cases of rape and you hear about murder one or two times in a year, as armed robbery. So that is sure that we are a better track towards making Gambia a crime-free nation.
But criminality can be imported despite the “peace loving” nature of Gambians and we have also seen the first bank robbery by Gambians on a broad daylight.
I will not necessarily say major crimes in this country are imported. We are as human as anybody else and we can commit heinous crimes as well. We are also very conscious of the fact that people can learn a lot from their exposure to the media: internet, channels and so on, that is why you now have police post everywhere. You don’t have to now go far before you can get to a police station and we have done to ensure that major crime are nipped in the bud. The bank robbery you mentioned didn’t take police 24 hours before the perpetrators were brought to book. We have our own challenges but we have the human capacity and the desire to ensure a crime-free state and the bank robbery you mentioned is an example of that.
But bank robbery of that nature has happened in the country for the first time. Doesn’t that suggest the sort of challenges there are?
Well, there are challenges. On daily basis we are faced with new forms of crime- I mean cyber-crime. That is why we are also doing a thorough study of what kinds of crimes we are registering in the country and finding better ways of dealing with them. So as criminals are devising ways of infiltrating the system, we are also working on ways of stopping them.
How big is cyber-crime in the country?
It is rampant! You know with cyber-crime it is not only on the internet. There is something I also call marabout fraud. Someone will call you and ask you to send them money and that they will help you get rich or have a job- many people are defrauded this way. And similar things happen to people on Facebook. We do not have the capacity to go deep into these sorts of cases but we do sensitise people not to give into such tricks by fraudsters on either on the internet or mobile phones and we tell them the means that such tricksters use to defraud them so that they are better prepared to refuse their tricks.
How about hacking- do you encounter cases of high magnitude?
Yes, but we are not very equipped to deal with some of those issues. Though we are now building a robust information technology unit that will deal with such issues, it is not ready yet. Hopefully, we will be very strong in dealing with cases of hacking in-depth very soon just as they are dealt with internationally.
Let’s move to some accusations against the Gambia Police Force. There are often claims from some opposition politicians that your institution is politicised in that it is involved in partisan politics. What do you make of that?
But how are we politicised? When you join the police force in this country, for the first time, you swear allegiance to the government and beside that, we work in accordance with the law- our conduct is clearly defined by the law. Unless you tell me an instance where a member or members of the Gambia Police Force have shown political colours in the discharge of their duty, I can’t agree with that. We are not politicised, we only work in accordance with the law.
Their argument is that you are not independent from the influence of the executive in the discharge of your duties as a police force- for instance you may not be able to criticise a particular government decision if you think it is wrong.
I mean whether you openly support the president or not, at the end of the day you are not going to do your job based on that- you are going to do your job based on the laws of the land as they relate to the case before you as an officer. That needs to be understood. Political affiliations have no bearing on the discharge of our duties because we work by the law. I can tell you that the Gambia Police Force takes every case it has, investigates and prosecutes anyone culpable.
So the members of the police force are not involved in partisan politics?
I do not speak for individual police- I am speaking on behalf of the entire police force and I can tell you that we, as an institution, work by the laws of the land and nothing else. And we are serving the Gambian population.
There are claims that some police officers who were in service have also joined some of the youth on the Mediterranean Sea voyage to Italy. Is this to the knowledge of your office?
I am hearing that for the first time but that should be, if it has ever happened, the decision of an individual person. You cannot, therefore, bring it down on the entire police force. I do know that virtually every sector of our society has been affected by this back-way issue but whether police officers are involved is not to my knowledge. The back-way is not only The Gambia that is affected, it is in the entire sub-region and if there are one or two police officers carried along, it only shows that we are only human.
But if it starts, couldn’t others follow and in effect affect the entire system?
That won’t help any sector even if journalists are leaving the country through the Mediterranean Sea, it won’t do us any good. Because the people who are already in the work force are already trained and that applies to all sectors and if they are leaving, then that will surely affect that particular sector in question. But like I said, I have not heard of a single case confirming that a member of our police force has gone to Italy through the back-way.
Finally, what do you have that you may want to share with the general public?
I would like to again reiterate to the general public that we are here to serve them and we would do whatever we can as members of the police force to protect their lives and properties and keep them safe at all times. But in the discharge of our duties, we need their partnership. Let us work together and make Gambia a crime-free state.]]>