By Richard Musaazi
There is a huge gap between how we want to be policed, how the police want to police us and how we are actually policed. Why there is this gap and what can be done about it?
The brutality exhibited by Uganda’s police force is a result of a number of factors. These include its beginnings under British colonial rule, poor recruitment policies, corruption and poor accountability for police actions.
Under the British colonial government the role of the police was to protect the interest of administration. It was not to serve the interests of the general populace.
Successive post-independence leaders used the police units to advance their own interests. For instance, president, Milton Obote, used the police force to suppress dissenting voices.
His successor, Idi Amin, used the police and other security agencies as a tool for repression and assassinations as well as detention and torture of his political opponents.
The main role of the police service is to prevent, control, detect and investigate crime. But in practice, its members act more like a paramilitary unit trained to deal with conflict and serious disorder. This orientation takes on a different nuance in how the police approach and treat civilians.
Another factor that contributes to violent behaviour is the recruitment process. Corruption, nepotism, tribalism and professional misconduct are all part of the process.
Apart from physical fitness, no attention is paid to their mental and emotional state. It’s unclear what training they receive once recruited. To my knowledge, the training model and curriculum used to induct fresh recruits has never been made public.
Why are the police officers not being held accountable for their actions?
The level of accountability within police agencies in Uganda is very low. They operate with impunity, because they know they will get away with it.
Police are able to get away with violence because there’s also a lack of political will to press for accountability.
Several reforms need to take place:
The ways officers are recruited must also change and be made more transparent. Individuals must be properly vetted by the National Intelligence Services. For instance, any criminal records must be scrutinised. The vetting of police officers should also be a continuous exercise to weed out rogue elements.
There must be more emphasis on their training. This should include the development of a policing policy which would cover, among other things, how the police should interact with communities. No such policy exists and more must be done to investigate suspicious deaths and hold those responsible accountable. There is also a gap in the investigation of violent, sudden and suspicious deaths at the hands of the police.
In addition, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations lacks modern forensic tools and experts to solve crimes.
In my view, it’s time to consider setting police models on a new course that abolishes force and re-imagines community relationships.
Police officers are yet to see misconduct by their colleagues as being detrimental to their own work. This, coupled with other external factors like lack of political will and the rudimentary recruitment process, makes the much hyped reforms a mirage.