Events of recent weeks have embroiled our young people and placed them at loggerheads with the Police.
While calls for unreasonable force may have some weight, it may be helpful if those who use such incidents to score points hold their desperate voices for the moment. Incidentally, the fracas in Kabala has now been overtaken by events in Moyamba district where the police are being blamed of inaction, young people on a rampage burnt down several houses and claimed that they were looking for the Chief to execute him. Now if that is not chaos then there has to be a different word for that level of lawlessness and wanton disregard for law and order.
The two incidents of Kabala town and Moyamba district should now be taken into context. It is reasonable to submit that no right-thinking Sierra Leonean would want to identify with any of these two events. These two incidents brought out the worst in our society but above all, the action that led to a loss of life or losses of life is always regrettable.
No police officer puts on his uniform in the morning with the intention to use the bullets supplied to him against another human being. However, it happens that without effective training, even the police in the USA, where the use of weapons and engagements with the public with a loaded weapon has been going on for so long that no one would contemplate that their police officers are not trained, they get it wrong sometimes.
Some would even argue that the police in America get is wrong more often against black people than they do against white people and that it is suspected that their mistakes are deliberate for other copious reasons.
That cannot be said for the Sierra Leone Police in any event. The presumption that the police in Sierra Leone may lack training is legitimate but no reasonable person would submit that the Sierra Leone Police Force are deliberate in targeting sections of our society, to use their weapons against them so as to kill without due cause or reason.
What most people often do not realize is the fact that even the police are people. They are human beings who when confronted with a life threatening situation may use their weapons to save their own lives. Maybe the police in Sierra Leone need to understand that in a country that has come away from a brutal war, the citizens are no more afraid of a warning shot in the air but that they would advance even after warning shots have been released. In such a situation, crowd control training that relies on evasive action rather than confrontation would be a reasonable option and if our officers do not have such training, then they need to go back to training school for that instruction.
Given that under stressful or life threatening situations mistakes may be made, one should then consider the level of threat that an officer may have faced before using his weapon against an individual. This is not to excuse death or killing by gunfire but an attempt to refocus attention on the result or likely consequences of lawlessness and disregard for lawful authority that has the option of force by deadly weapon behind it. Anyone who sees a gun and attempts to approach it in my book is a present and imminent danger to the police officer behind that gun.
The above brings me squarely to the situation in Moyamba district. In that instance, no loss of life ensued nor did the police engage the irate youths. However, the burning of three or more properties and without the flight of the Chief, his probable murder would not have been a prize worth paying if we are to allow such mayhem to take root in our society. The Police Commander in Moyamba made a decision based on the situation on the ground and also based on his estimation of the threat to life of both the antagonists and his officers. It will always be a matter of operational responsibility for a Commanding Officer to have to make certain decisions in the main theatre of engagement and in the case of Moyamba, the result mirrors what happened in Kabala though the sequence is different and the operational options may have also not been similar.
In both of these incidents, young people took to the streets without lawful authority and resorted to burning down buildings, damaging property and putting lives in danger. On no account would a responsible police force take such wanton destruction lightly. The public must understand that the police have a duty to perform; their principal mandate to protect life and property is the foundation of civilised society.
The alternative is for the country to degenerate to a fragile state, a conflict prone environment and a low income country under stress (LICUS). None of these descriptions should be aspired to. The threat of force by the police is legitimate and those who challenge them on the ground to test that force may do so at their risk. It is time for those who would rush to denounce the police for the use of reasonable force to protect life and property to hold their fire and wait for the learning that would come from the post-mortem analysis of these two incidents.
Finally, many have rushed to question the integrity and operational candour of the Inspector General of Police. Yes, as the head of the police force, his shoulders bear the responsibility for the actions of every Police Officer in the conduct of his or her duties. However, this responsibility stops immediately a police officer contravenes his standing orders or when an officer conducted him or herself outside of the operational orders in force.
The police in Sierra Leone like any other police force have routine methodology for dealing with riotous conduct or situations tending to degenerate to into riots. In such instances, police officers and especially Commanding Officers on the ground are mandated to take full responsibility and act in a manner consistent with effective policing.
In such circumstances, the IGP is not the person responsible but remains ready to attend to any consequences of the Commanding Officer’s actions. In the case of Kabala, the IGP went immediately to the area to assess the situation for himself. He addressed the people of Kabala and kept them reassured of his professionalism in dealing with the issue. In the event, he immediately suspended the two Commanding Officers pending an investigation on the incident declared that the said investigation would be immediate and conducted by a team from outside of Kabala. This is to ensure fairness and transparency in the deliberations.
The IGP could have done no less to reassure the people of his attention to their concerns and in fact has promised to do much more to address the issues that emanate from the investigations speedily.
The incident in Moyamba is also under an immediate investigation and no doubt, the issues raised by that investigation would be duly revealed to the public. We need to support the police at these times. The alternative of lawlessness, unreasonable violence and mayhem is totally unacceptable
By Titus Boye-Thompson, Freetown.