The police as protectors and friends

Last week Monday, June 2, 2008 and Tuesday, June 3, 2008 were bad days for the Ghana Police Service. In two separate incidents, precious lives were lost and even though the police were obviously reacting to glaring breaches of the law, they did not score good marks, at least in the eyes of some sections of the public.

In the first incident, which occurred in Ho, the Volta Regional capital, on the night of Monday, June 2, 2008, a man who was said to have breached security arrangements at the Residency and entered the official home of the Volta Regional Minister with what was described as sinister motives lost his life when police guards opened fire. Unfortunately, Superintendent Theophilus Nartey, the Ho Municipal Police Commander who joined the security team to arrest the intruder also died four days later from wounds he sustained during the struggle.

In the second incident at Ashaiman near Tema, Moses Kassim, an ll-year-old school pupil and a 24-year-old driver, Baba Amadu, dropped dead when the police opened fire in “self-defence” to scare away a rampaging mob that was demanding the release of some detained drivers.

As stated earlier, in both instances, there were clear indications of serious breaches of the law. In the Ho incident for example, the deceased, named as Dan Dzikunu Agbale, could not be said to be a friendly visitor when he started attacking the police guards and some occupants of the residency with offensive weapons.

There was, therefore, the need for the security men to apply reasonable force to bring him under control. According to the police’s own narration, this reasonable force turned out to be two bullets to the legs and a third to the mid-section of the intruder.

The question is, how was the man able to outwit the security guards at the main gate, which can only be opened to allow in visitors who have been properly cleared? Granted that the deceased became violent and uncontrollable, why was one bullet to the leg not enough to demobilise him? Maybe, the guards acted a little too late when things had gone out of hand.

A senior officer in the person of Supt. Nartey who tried to intervene to bring things under control lost his life in the process. As it is now, apart from lives being lost, valuable information as to the real motives of the deceased’s entry to the residency is lost forever and we are all left with rumours and speculations. Already, a political twist has been given to the incident, a situation that could create other problems in this election year.

Since the public is starved of any independent witness, we are left with the account given by the police who are themselves big actors in the drama.

The Ashaiman incident could have been avoided had the drivers’ union sent a small delegation of executives to the police station to discuss matters with the police officers. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and they might have panicked at the sight of the aggressive crowd and opened fire in the name of the usual self-defence.

But could the police have done better than they did? To answer that one needs to take into consideration the training given to our police personnel in weapon handling. Secondly, we need to take a look at how well-equipped the Police Service is to handle such emergency and nasty situations.

Faced with a hostile crowd, the police could fire warning shots, fire tear gas canisters, use water cannons or fire rubber bullets. Whatever the case, the use of live ammunition is the last resort except when the police are engaged in a shoot-out with another armed gang.

What is becoming the norm and not the exception is that our police personnel panic at the least provocation and resort to the use of live ammunition. That pupil or the driver would not have died if the fatal shots were actually warning shots and not aimed at the crowd.

A place like Ashaiman is a dangerous ground and the police should have had enough riot control gear in their arsenal, especially when they know of the incidents that could trigger mob violence.

Currently under discussion is the mode of recruitment into the Police Service because of the numerous cases of indiscipline and professional misconduct that have engulfed it.

The incident of stray bullets killing innocent civilians is becoming too much for a service that is supposed to be more of a protector of lives than a fighting brigade. The involvement of some personnel of the service in several cocaine cases are issues of worry to many Ghanaians who want to see a disciplined and well-trained Police Service operating as protectors of life and property and friends of the vulnerable.

There is no doubt that members of the Police Service are working under very severe and distressing conditions in terms of poor salaries and other working conditions. Many of them do not have decent residential accommodation and most of their offices from where they operate are nothing to write home about.

Apart from a few undisciplined ones, a lot of them are hardworking but for the stress under which they work. They, therefore, deserve the support of all.

The Ashaiman incident is another reminder that the Police Service needs general overhauling. It is also important that service personnel found to have acted unprofessionally in such situations are made to suffer the consequences.

We may be quick to condemn the service personnel for their lapses. But we must equally admit that the service is confronted with genuine problems which must be addressed to bring it to the level of competence and efficiency we all want it to be.

Credit: Daily Graphic/Kofi Akordor (fokofi@yahoo.co.uk)