The importance of efficient and corrupt-free police force in any serious, democratic society hardly needs emphasis. The more settled democratic societies around the world today have succeeded, to a greater degree, because their police or law enforcement system does not have cultures that are shamelessly corrupt and inefficient. By its very essence, true democratic governance is energized or fueled by the rule of law as well as the equal application of the law and not by the well-connected or those who have money to buy their way through the system.

For decades, one of the major problems blocking development and efficiency in government is the police force, including other law enforcement agencies. To say that Ghana police force, particularly, is helplessly corrupt and dysfunctional, is not an overstatement. The police needs to be singled out because, whether admitted directly or not, all modern democracies, such as UK, Canada, Australia—and yes—United States, are all well-organized “police states” in their own ways.    

Keep in mind by reference to police state, one is not talking in terms of the police force/law enforcement system under some authoritarian or socialist regimes where the people are mere subjects/spectators of one-person’s rule as opposed to citizens with constitutionally-guaranteed civil rights and liberties. United States has succeeded in many ways in its democratic experiment because it has strong, no-nonsense, and corrupt-free police force. Ghana is composed of humans, too.

Police is omnipresent in the United States’ culture. In fact, everywhere one goes across the fifty states, somewhere along the road or in the street corner, one is likely to see police vehicle/motorbike parked or patrolling. From all indications, it’s evident that the foregoing developed nations strongly believe their political cultures and socioeconomic systems are tied to effective, professional law enforcement. That belief stems from the enduring awareness that vibrant democratic governance and effective policing are not two opposing values. This means democracy based on the rule of law and the police as the enforcers of the law are like Siamese twins conjoined on the heads from birth. 

One wonders if an average Ghanaian police officer really understands the significance of his or her noble role as the law enforcement component of the democratic Ghana. Whenever one hears Ghanaians complaining bitterly about the government not doing enough to protect lives and properties, what many of these complainants ignore or don’t know is that all police forces in every society form intrinsic part of the government, past or present.

Actually, modern democratic system is premised on the separation of powers in the context of the three coequal branches of government—legislature, judiciary, and the executive. The law enforcement agency or the police service falls under the executive arm of the government. Needless to say, if parliament passes a bill into law, the constitution puts the sole responsibility on the executive branch to execute or carry out the laws of the land. In this regard, the police force is part of the law execution process.

Thus, as members of law enforcement, the police officers have, at least, some basic knowledge of the laws of the country in which they operate. More so by the nature of their job, police officers have power to make or unmake governments, especially in the democratic society. Police officer who takes bribe from a crime suspect and fails to arrest, or allows the investigations to go cold because the suspect is famous is not only willfully undermining the rule of law and democracy but also destroying the moral fabric of the society.

It does not matter whether under NPP, NDC, CPP, or whichever party is power, if Ghana’s fledgling democratic experiment were to succeed, in many cases it would depend on our corrupt-prone police force. Some of us have problem with many Ghanaians who blame the ruling governments always for crimes in the country.  Honestly, Ghana police force is a joke; bribery and corruption are parts of the force’s cultural persona. It is why all concerned Ghanaians must come together and sing a dirge for the country’s law enforcement agencies led by the police.

Many Ghanaians have encounters and shared experiences in which countless police officers even take huge sums of monies from criminals and look the other way while the robbers unleash their dastardly acts on their helpless victims. While on vacation in Ghana, June 2018, a friend who owns haulage or “articulator” trucks business in Kumasi told me how some officers of the MTTD of Ghana police service harassed and solicited bribes from his drivers every day the trucks were on the nation’s death-trap highways. He recounted that the “traffic violations” could be as minor as a tiny broken tail-light and the police officer would demand about two million Ghana cedis as bribe.

By the way, anywhere in the U.S. if a police officer stops a motorist for traffic violation, for instance, and issues ticket for the offender, the driver has three options: 1. Pay the traffic fine within 30 days and that is it; 2. Go to the traffic court to explain to the judge why the police was wrong for issuing the ticket; and 3. Ignore paying the fine and also not go to the court 30 days after getting the ticket from the police.

The third scenario above is the trickiest and dangerous one because it can be 10 years after or more; no police officer will come tracking a traffic offender for failing to pay fine or appears before a judge to plead his or her case. But, bear in mind whenever U.S. police officer issues a driving citation, all the offender’s information is programmed into the national crime database.

So, ignoring to pay a past fine is almost like sitting on a time bomb that can explode at any time in that if the same traffic offender is not lucky enough and gets into any legal encounter with a police officer anywhere in U.S. city or town, believe it, that individual would end up straight in jail for the previous offense.  In U.S., lawbreakers would not even dare try to bribe a police officer. We know under these circumstances, a Ghanaian police officer will take a bribe in a heart’s beat and “kills” the case.

When the laws entangles anyone in the U.S., it normally runs its full course in the court of law. No wonder Ghana is still struggling to develop because one of the most important elements—police force—of any nation’s development is woefully failing to play its proper and effective role in the country’s law enforcement culture.  No doubt, Ghana police is dying of the cancer of bribery and corruption. On this sad note, let’s sing a dirge for the police service and other law enforcement organs in Ghana.

Bernard Asubonteng is US-based sociopolitical writer.