There is a perception of an increase in the rate of violent crime perpetration prevailing currently.
As usual, partisan minds are trying too hard to politicise this perception. There are also claims of feelings of insecurity among the general populace, as usual without any foundation in research also benefitting from partisan fuels.
The general call is for the law enforcement agencies to be up and doing because no one knows when it would be their turn to be victims.
Exactly what is expected of the police and the Ministry of the Interior is however not clear. Obviously, the public see it as its duty, and rightly, see them as the experts who should know what to do.
Until recently, the police could not come out to complain about the fact that they did not have enough men for the size of our population.
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They are under-resourced, with inadequate numbers of vehicles and logistics, which makes it impossible for them to protect us adequately.
With the perennial shortage of funds in the national kitty, the government cannot afford to completely meet all their needs in men, transport and logistics, because doing so would have repercussions on other sectors of the economy; and Ghanaians would talk.
So let us not delude ourselves that the police are in any position to adequately protect us. It is as if our sense of security is based on simply trusting each other to be ‘kind’ enough not to commit crimes.
This trust is being eroded very quickly in the face of the recent daily reports of robberies.
It is a frightening proposition that when miscreants decide to ‘go to town’ as they did at the Kwabenya Police Station and Royal Motors and now the Ahmed Hussain Soale and other incidents, it is unlikely that anyone can do much to prevent them from succeeding.
The lack of funds requires that we consider other crime prevention strategies which are less costly, and which can attract support from all and sundry. Prevention, as the saying goes, is better than cure. In this instance, it is also much cheaper.
It can however happen only if there is a complete change in the perception that the public has about the police.
Behavioural science research has found that when people perceive the police as treating them with respect and fairness and applying the laws appropriately, they are more likely to comply with the law in their everyday lives.
They are also more willing to help co-police their communities, report crime, identify criminals, and act as witnesses and jurors.
This research evidence points to the fact that the help that the police have been calling for from the public would not be forthcoming until the perception that the public holds about them changes.
In Ghana it is no secret that the public’s perception of the police is far from ideal. Research supports the use of the following strategies to improve perceptions of the public.
Involving the broader community in the development of strategies for managing social order encourages public acceptance and buy-in. It is unheard of in this country for the police in our communities to meet with the community to jaw-jaw about preventing and fighting crime.
The police can use such forums to educate the general public on relevant laws to cure the ignorance that is so prevalent. This must be the norm if the police are to receive the help they need in combating crime.
The police must of necessity be perceived to be engaging in transparent, rule-based decision-making and demonstrating fairness and impartiality. There are too many instances in which the first complainant is deemed innocent by the police and the other party is treated like a criminal and his rights trampled on by the police.
Anyone who feels mistreated by the police becomes an enemy to the police. This cannot be in the interest of the police. The number of instances where individuals allegedly paid money to the police for them to place people in jail is countless. It takes being a victim or having a family member who has been a victim to harbour animosity towards the police.
Treating citizens with dignity communicates to them that their rights are being respected. Nothing hurts more than being a victim of police abuse, mistreatment or brutality. It appears that the idea that one is innocent until proven guilty is foreign to some police officers who treat suspects with so much disrespect or violence.
Without gaining the trust of the public, many crimes would go unreported and successful prosecution of criminals would be difficult as witnesses would shy away from their civic duties.
Too many people have had very negative experiences bordering on police injustice and corruption even when they were on the side of the law, to care about even having any form of contact with them.
As long as the police who are the custodians of the law continue to break and misapply it, there are those who would also feel emboldened to break the law.
There are many people who live with criminals, but who perceive these criminals as neighbours on whom they would be reluctant to tell on because their allegiance to the police is weak.
The police have a lot to do to clean up its image in order to earn the trust of the public and the moral right to information critical to the success of their work.
The police also need to balance the militant mindset that is traditionally associated with police work with a show of sensitivity to people’s needs and concerns if the public are to believe that the police are sincerely trying to do what is best for the public.
In their minds many police officers have not made the transition which conforms to policing as a service rather than as a force.
The police say they are our friends but they must prove it, because we see them as our hunters and ourselves as their defenseless prey. The time for action on the part of the police is now, if we are to make inroads in the fight against crime.
The writer is with the Psychosocial Health Foundation of Ghana.