A LOT has happened in the past few weeks that has eroded public versus police confidence levels and trust. The recent loss of two lives, did not sit well with not only members of the public but the Republican President as well. Expectedly, there was a top brass reshuffle that spared the head of the police service but claimed the scalps of his lieutenants.
My take on this, without discussing the intricacies is that although the reshuffle did not fully meet people’s expectations, it could be a route to more humane interactions with the police. As usual, I would like to offer advice on how the police can start the process of restoring our confidence and trust. One quick solution that comes to mind is the use of technology.
Although weird, we should push for legislation that allows members of the public to film the police in action, whenever possible. Filmable police officers are always on guard against excesses. Our parliamentarians should pass legislation that allows our officers to be filmed whenever they have public engagements. Individuals if allowed to film our officers would go a long way in reducing certain unforeseen excesses. Emergent technologies should make our lives better. Assuming this legislation was passed, for a start, I would gladly raise funds to install video recorders at our major police roadblocks.
The second part on how we can help our men and women in uniform is for the state to empower them with body cameras. Body cameras greatly help in day to day interactions with the public. If possible, all officers engaged with the public must use body worn video cameras for audio video recordings. These devices are increasingly becoming cheaper as people adapt to new technologies. The cameras can also be of internal help to the police service.
The other devices that the police should consider using are dash cameras. While we do know that perhaps some of these are already in use, members of the public should be availed information recorded when push comes to shove. Modern policing should be a two-way affair. A dashcam is an onboard vehicle event data machine that continually records anything in front of the windscreen. Other advanced dashcams provide audio and video recordings of the rear and all windows of the car.
If and when the police start using these devices, the public can also be allowed to record officers as part of give and take. The permanency in documenting public police interactions can help the nation greatly and reduce the current whys.
The other way of reducing the current gap between the public and the police is to introduce a non-partisan “community policing wing.” This can be done with open eyes because of the rigmarole of trusting community members who ironically want to be a law unto themselves.
The idea that our highly feared and perhaps untrusted police can work together to prevent crime and solve neighbourhood problems keeps crossing my mind. A lot has happened in the past weeks that has chipped on the police community bedrock, which we have to restore to its former glory.
If well embraced, community policing brings police and citizens together and prevents crime. There is however a caveat in regard to community policing because if not well handled it becomes a good breeding ground for infiltration by partisan elements, better known as cadres.
I don’t know what happened to the police reserve wing but a mix of reservists cum community police officers can help redress the imbalance. Communities just need to work together and reduce crime at that lower level. We need to stop crime before it occurs.
Our police can restore trust if we had well defined neighbourhood watch groups that feed into police posts and stations. Every neighbourhood should be responsible for preventing crime at its level. Neighbourhood groups help the police bond with the community and provide vital information.
Police need also to centralize their public relations wings. Zambia is too big to be run from Lusaka always. We need provincialized public relations wings that feed the public on a regular basis.
Police should also not shy away from using electronic and print media in disseminating vital information. Every province must have a wing that is equal to the task in utilising print and electronic media.
How about the police emergency line? How many people use 991? Police must be seen to advertise this toll free line so that members of the public can have the confidence to report any matters. Has our police wing ever approached any station to advertise their number? I would love to watch on TV the toll free line being advertised. After all, our police are employed to help us but not in a thorny way.
By Godfrey Chitalu
The author is a social commentator who writes for pleasure.
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