We have seen a fast growing trend of police officers wearing masks to disguise their identities whenever they are conducting their duties. This became publicly prominent in the run up to the 2016 general elections, but it has now become a main feature in the dress code of our law enforcers.

Maybe we missed the announcement where the Zambia Police changed their mandate and code of conduct when doing police work? We are concerned because from our point of view, we see so many things wrong with this development. It is a source of unprofessional conduct, loss of dignity for the service and an opportunity for criminals to use the police uniform to commit crimes.

We understand that in countries where police officers wear masks, it is usually for a good reason. For example, in Latin America, some sections of the police wear what they call “Balaclava” when battling drug cartels and gangs to protect their identities and families. There is nothing wrong with having a strategic section of the police force in our own country wearing their own version of the said Balaclava, but this is not what we are seeing.

Why would an ordinary anti-riot police officer wear a mask? We can be forgiven for concluding that those police officers in masks are afraid of showing their faces because they are up to no good. In many ways, it makes perfect sense! In recent years, there have been countless complaints about unprofessional police conduct; from tear gassing and burning up university hostels to beating up journalists and shooting unsuspecting members of the public. Our police force has turned into a gang but they have no wits to show their faces as they commit these criminal and violent acts.

We think it is unlawful for police officers to hide behind masks while they are supposedly trying to protect the public. They are dressing up like armed robbers and their supervisors are happy to superintend over a gang of criminals in uniform. As things stand right now, the only difference between a bank robber and a uniformed police officer is that one of them commits crimes with the full blessings of the State.

Perhaps someone ordered the police to bridge the gap between them and the camouflage-wearing PF cadres. We have seen more and more cadres wearing police like camouflage, and lately, these cadres are even armed. One may wonder whether the guns the cadres are using to shoot their rivals actually belong to the police.

Maybe the masks are supposed to make police officers look like cadres so that people can’t tell the difference? It is no wonder when a PF cadre kills someone, police are reluctant to take action because they also can’t differentiate between a genuine officer and a cadre. We understand them. It’s really confusing.

Now, before the police tries to fool us with a cheap explanation on the need to protect police identity while on duty, let us note that there hasn’t been any case of a police officer targeted and brutalised by drug cartels or UPND cadres or anything of that sort in Lusaka. The opposite has always been the case; if anyone is brutalised, it is the police officers who are the aggressors.

We have seen the ragged and tattered paramilitary uniform, and it is ridiculous enough because we don’t understand why a police officer tasked to keep vigil at a court complex would need that kind of camouflage. But now we are seeing actual robber’s masks, black glasses and heavy scuffs being worn by police officers. We have seen that even those police officers who provide security escort to the President also wear these masks. What is the point? Who are they hiding from?

How can anyone trust a masked police officer? A mask is a symbol of fear and criminal intent combined. Is this confirmation that there is a thin line between police and a criminal?

We urge the police command to look into this issue because it sends a very wrong message to the public. When the public can’t identify police officers because they are masked, you cannot seriously expect a citizen to approach a cop for help, lest he approaches the enemy. Remember that 2021 is just around the corner and if this dress code is encouraged among police officers, it will be a source of concern for electoral malpractice.

Bwana Kanganja sir, we are concerned with this development and we need a reasonable explanation. If an explanation cannot be given, then please order your men to revert to proper, smart police uniforms. These masks are not just a source of suspicious and unprofessional conduct; they are also taking away the dignity of the police service. Remember bwana, the person who said police must look smart and wear their name tags on duty was not stupid.