A hungry cop is more dangerous than a thief

During the 2018 Zambia Police Day on Sunday, Inspector General Kakoma Kanganja said there was urgent need for the men and women in uniform to create a rapport and partnership with members of the public in order to regain the dwindling confidence from members of society.

We cannot agree any less; members of the public do not have confidence in the police officers. There currently exists a very negative image about professionalism in the police service and the corruption tag has not been successfully relinquished.

Many times when people take their complaints to the police, they end up spending money – one way or another. The moment you enter a police station, officers who work at the inquiries desk do a quick evaluation of the complainant’s financial status, which eventually determines how much you will part away with.

If you appear stable with a couple of smart phones in your hands, they will welcome you with a smile as wide as a camel. They will act friendly and pretend to be extremely professional in a bid to attract a fat tip. And when the bonzoli pulls out a K200 from his fat wallet as a token of appreciation, you will see the sergeant saluting and quickly volunteering to share phone numbers.

When a complainant walks in wearing deformed pata patas with a cell phone that is being kept together by a rubber band, they tell you at “nkalanikoni paja ba mai tuzamiitana manje manje ai”. Hours later after the police officers have even changed shifts, that’s when the poor lady is asked “nanga imwe apo ba mai tumitandizeni?” As if that’s not enough torture, when she explains that she is in need of a medical report, the Constable will tell her to go and make 10 photocopies of the last remaining form on behalf of the police station.

Even just reporting a stolen phone at the police is costly. The dealing officer wants talk time, claiming they will need to make so many calls in order to trace the lost phone; and also, transport money for going to get a court permit in order to conduct a search at MTN/Airtel. One way or another, you have to pay when you visit the police station. How can the public have confidence in our officers like that?

In fact, many people go to the police station to report lost documents because it is a procedural requirement before a replacement like NRC or Passport can be made. No one goes to the police with hope that they will recover what was stolen.

Reporting a case of assault at the police used to be meaningful when officers would ensure that the offender is taken to court and prosecuted. But that is hardly happening nowadays. If someone clobbers you today and you report that person to the police, the handling officer is likely to be compensated on your behalf for the beating you took. When you go back to check on the person you left locked up in the cells, the officer will explain that “twamuchosa kaili lamulo siituvomekeza kusunga muntu pantawi itali so”, then you know that money has exchanged hands.

If you cause a minor accident today and police officers are called to the scene, chances are 99 per cent that the motorist who will be found to be in the wrong will first pay the police officer before the accident victim makes his claim. If it so happens that there is also expired car insurance involved, the officer even makes a budget in their heads from the double income. Cases of drunk driving, disregarding traffic lights, dangerous driving and unlicensed driving are resolved by bribing officers between K50 to K1, 000 depending on the gravity of the case. The arrogant motorists are the ones that end up in the fast truck court.

Traffic officers are actually the funniest because sometimes they arrive at the accident scene, not in a police car, but a toll truck; and they will be the ones negotiating how much you should pay for towing.

If they want to mount a roadblock or a speed trap, officers find the most hidden place where approaching motorists cannot see them from a distance. Sometimes they will mount a roadblock on a curve so that it’s impossible for road uses to U-turn. In today’s Zambia, you can’t afford to drive without some loose cash in the pocket.

These are the issues that have caused the public to lose confidence in the police. It’s not exactly a relieving site seeing a police officer approach your vehicle. It’s not exactly a promising situation when you take a complaint to the police station. Unfortunately our police command has not done enough to erase these perceptions.

We would like to state that there are some police officers who are professional and strive hard to serve the public with dignity, but the majority see every situation as an opportunity to ease their financial pressure at home. It is that pressure which forces our law enforcers to survive as thieves in uniform, stealing both from the public and from the government.

It is good that the Inspector General realises that there is no rapport between the public and the police. Indeed that can be fixed, but it cannot be fixed by warnings and threats to the hungry officers.

We would like to urge the Police IG to remove his head from the sand and face reality. A police officer who is paid K3,000 a month, married with 4 school-going children and 2 dependents, cannot stop stealing. This is the truth that he needs to tell the President.

It is a fact that the Zambian public perceives RTSA officers difficult to bribe because some patrollers who work at the Road Transport and Safety Agency are volunteers with high paying jobs and they cannot be swayed by a K200 bribe from a traffic offender.

So even if we build our police officers these Chinese prefab houses, if they can withdraw their entire salary in one ATM transaction, the rest of their survival income will have to come from nchekeleko, because these law enforcers are not trained in hunger management.


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