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An open letter to IGP Dampare

My congratulations on your appointment and best wishes for your tenure. Like all tenures, yours will not be as long as you would want. Time is of the essence.

With the time available to you, however, you can choose to either leave a legacy for which Ghanaians will forever honour you or you can choose the path of personal enrichment. You are not alone in this dilemma; you are in the company of many. Most of Ghana’s public servants must confront this binary choice. If we assume that you love your country more than money, you should consider the actions I want to suggest below.

1. Recruitment. It is said in the computer world that garbage in, garbage out (gigo); so it is with recruitment into the police. Some politicians have publicly boasted about recruiting people into your Service. The question is whether the best people are being recruited into your Service, given this apparent high level of political interference. Many of your police persons are functional illiterates.

Suggested Solutions: Test this for yourself by asking a randomly selected constable to write (in your presence), a five-minute essay on any topic of your choice (such as “What I Did Yesterday”). Wider testing of current police persons will root out the garbage. You must insist on a recruitment policy that is transparent and has regional balance.

2. Police toll collectors. On a recent trip from Tamale to Bolga (a distance of about 100 miles), I counted about 20 police stops. That’s an average of one police stop for every 5 miles. Each stop had at least two officers. What are the consequences of this sedentary police presence?

a. The encampment of the police under trees and tents has neither prevented armed robberies on the highway nor provided comfort to travelers. Sedentary policing does not deter criminals. In some jurisdictions, police people have specified geographic areas to make their presence felt, this is called a “beat”. Ubiquitous police presence deters crime; sedentary policing does not. Your introduction of a horse-patrol unit is an improvement, but horses require feeding and care (stables, grooming, veterinary services, horseshoes, saddles, etc.). Not to count the cost of training horses and their riders.

b. Your service people have hampered trans-regional trade. They have therefore worked well to counter Ghana’s strategic policy to be the gateway to West Africa. Ask why the relative volume of traffic bound for Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso from our ports has fallen since the end of the Ivorian civil war; even though the Ivorian route is longer.

c. Non-road worthy vehicles and vehicles exceeding the axle-load limits parade our highways. With impunity. Such vehicles are a hazard to other road users and damage our expensively constructed roads. Take a look at the typical vehicle carrying charcoal all the way from the north, say Wurugu, to Accra.

d. The presence of these numerous police stops increases travel and transportation costs. Most of these costs are passed on to Ghanaian consumers of the goods subject to police ‘tolls’.

Suggested Solutions: Eliminate the harassing police stops; the “park well” mantra. If the police must be on the highways, then they should be strictly mobile. The means of making your police people mobile include walking (especially in town), riding bicycles and motorbikes. Use “Testers” to root out your officers who stay on the roads only to collect money from motorists. Travel incognito at night in a taxi and see for yourself what your ‘boys and girls’ are up to.

3. “Service with Integrity” at the Police Stations. Many citizens think this motto is a cruel joke. You can sample citizens on this. You will find that most Ghanaians have little faith in getting justice when they bring a case to the police. This is one of the reasons for the prevalence of lynching. If transportation is required, the police will invariably request the complainant to provide or enable it. The barter of yam, sheep etc. for justice does not start with judges.

Suggested Solutions: Use “testers” to root out the garbage that has infiltrated the Service.

4. Police fines, very fine for the Police. Police fines can be an important source of IGF. In some jurisdictions, police fines are an important source of municipal revenue. Why is it not so in Ghana? The reason is simple: the privatization of the public purse. The present arrangements enrich police people and impoverish the Police Service and government. The Police Service has engineered to penalize traffic violations with such high official fines, court appearances, seizure of vehicles, etc. that honest citizens are compelled to settle with the road police.

Suggested Solutions: The police need to use technology to impose fines payable to the Service and to track drivers who think they can avoid paying their fines. DVLA has a database of drivers. The Police could work with the Chief Justice to set up Traffic Courts in every District capital. If properly managed, such a system could be financed from fines.

5. Road damage. The damaged shoulders of our roads speak volumes about the absence of law enforcement. Exhibit 1: The shoulders of the Accra-Tema Motorway; Exhibit 2: The Aflao road, up to Central University. Exhibit 3: The Tema-Akosombo road, particularly from the Community 22 junction past Michel Camp to the first toll booth.

Suggested Solutions: Place a few granite boulders strategically on the shoulders of the roads. Volunteer artists could paint them. You will ask Shai Hills quarry companies to donate these boulders as CSR and to atone for the ruin of our roads by their heavy dump trucks.

6. Disabled vehicles left on our roads, a contributor to our horrific road carnage. Many of us know individuals who have died because their vehicles ran into disabled vehicles abandoned on our roads. A road is not a private garage or parking lot; but the failure of law enforcement makes it appear so.

Suggested Solutions: The police or MMDAs should license private towing companies to remove vehicles left on the roads to a police station. The vehicle owners will pay the cost of towing and storage. Failure to pay should result in forfeiture and auctioning of the vehicle.

7. Private Security Companies and their potential threat. The existence of so many private security companies is a testimony to the failure of police entrepreneurship. The Police Service could have set up a special unit to provide private security services. This would have obviated the need for private security companies. But now that the private security companies have come to stay, they need to be properly regulated. First, many have uniforms that mimic those of national security services. This can be confusing to citizens and can be used by unscrupulous private security employees to take advantage of uninformed citizens.

Suggested Solutions: Require, in collaboration with your sector minister, that all private security companies have the same uniform. They may distinguish themselves by other insignia such as headgear, crests, etc. Second, propose legislation against private security employees ever being allowed to bear arms. The security companies will clamour for arming their employees after one or two of their members have been killed by armed robbers. Once private security employees are armed, the owners of the companies will become de facto warlords. Dangerous.

8. Misuse of police people as alternatives to traffic lights. The use of police people to direct traffic, to be human traffic lights is a misuse and abuse of limited law enforcement resources. Casual observation indicates that untrained young men armed with tree branches are able to do a decent job of directing traffic.

Suggested Solutions: Young men and women can be employed at considerably lower cost to direct traffic. This will free police people, trained in criminology at great expense, to focus on fighting crime.

9. Constraint of the barracks/rented accommodation system. The colonial authorities needed incentives to convince public servants to serve in hardship areas of Her Majesty’s Empire. This is the reason for the amenities, including housing, provided to public servants in Ghana. After more than 63 years of Independence, we have been unwilling to undo this drain on the public purse. For the police, you cannot employ the numbers needed if they must be accommodated at government expense. As urbanization and the related social rootlessness increase, so too will crime.

Suggested Solutions: While you cannot deny current police people the colonial legacy of government accommodation, you could do so for new police people. I will call them Community Police (CP). CP will come from and live within the communities from which they are recruited. They were not homeless when they were recruited, so they will provide their own accommodation. Pairs of CP will make their presence felt 24/7: walking, riding bicycles and motorbikes.

Many people have spoken well of you. May you live up to that reputation.

Columnist: Dr. Gheysika A. Agambila

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