Tuesday, July 15, 2008



The army-police fusion breeds anarchy
A select committee of parliament has been set up to investigate the conduct of the police following public out try about excessive use of force and outright abuse of authority.

The parliamentary investigations come at a time when government is also being accused of militarising the police force. It’s reported that several soldiers have taken up positions at the police headquarters and others are undergoing training before they are posted to up-country stations.

These developments are worrying because this is surely not the time to turn the police into a military force. The Constitution created the institutions of the police and army for two parallel functions. One is for civil purposes i.e taking care of the internal security ( generally ensuring public order ) and the other (army) to protect our country from external aggression or military attacks.

Similarly the training of the people who are deployed to carry out the two distinct constitutional duties is quite different. Parliament in enacting subsidiary legislation (the laws that operationalise the provisions of our constitution), has created the Police Act and the UPDF Act. Again, two distinct laws to regulated the conduct of two different armed forces.

But given the wanton/unprofessional conduct of many men and women in the police force, it’s becoming evident that they also know very little or nothing at all about the laws that govern their professions. And the problem of ignorance of the law among the rank and file of the police is further compounded by poor training, planning and sheer cowardice-- releasing a bullet should be the last call by any police officer on public duty.

And if that call is to be made at all, it should not be for purposes of shooting to kill unless the police officer’s life is in danger and shoots in self defence. How, for instance, does the police authorities explain the recent Bwaise tragedy where three peopled were shot dead if it’s not due to a combination of poor training and planning (command and control)?

Before the deployment of the police unit that carried out the operation to arrest drug abusers in the Bwaise slum commanders at the headquarters should have assessed the magnitude of the mission, determined the required number of personnel for the operation without endangering anyone.

Instead, a small force was deployed and it was literally overpowered by the very criminals they had gone to arrest. And tragically, the threatened police officers ended up shooting each other including an innocent child! A police vehicle was burnt. The cost to the country is simply maddening.

This bad policing which is a result of mistakes made by the leadership in the police creates an unwarranted culture of impunity and lack of accountability that greatly affects people’s civil liberties. Both the police and the public end up being suspicious of each other. This is the reason why any armed police officer is always ready to shoot at the slightest confrontation.

But the provisions of the law are clear. The use of extreme force, which among others includes shooting to kill, is only allowed in situations of armed resistance or during the arrest of very dangerous suspects such as terrorists strapped with bombs.

The Police Act is more explicit on this matter. Police officers are not allowed to use firearms or excessive force unless they have reasonable ground to believe that their lives are in danger. The police are also required to carry out their duties in a dignified manner especially when dealing with women and children.

The policing strategy of giving soldiers police uniforms will not help improve the image of the force. It can only make it worse. These illegal acts normally erode public confidence and I guess that’s not what the leadership of the police force has set up to achieve.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

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