Editorial | Anti-police sentiments growing
There was a time when the police officer was a highly respected member of the community. Regarded as the peace officer among his peers, he was called on to resolve minor disputes, and his counsel was sought by citizens who faced tough, domestic issues. Often, the work of the policemen was quiet, yet preventative, for they would keep an eye on the wayward ones.
How then did the police lose the respect of the people? What have police officers done to erode public confidence and trust in their work?
These are pertinent questions, considering recent examples of public derision and scorn being poured on policemen as they go about their duty. More and more images of persons violently challenging the authority of the police are emerging. What is worse, members of the public are seen egging on the aggressors.
We need our police to keep our communities safe. They have a tough job, for criminals are emboldened and openly challenge the authority of the police.
The police are not paid well, many are stressed, and they are not well equipped. They have a tough job. But if they are hampered in doing their jobs, then we are inviting anarchy to replace the rule of law.
How did we get here? Some say it started as a reaction to police crime-fighting activities in inner-city communities, which were marked by ruthlessness and brutality. As protests mounted against police killings and other excesses, people began to see the police in an utterly different light.
THE BIRTH OF INDECOM
Charges of unprofessionalism and abuse kept piling up, and they were accompanied by demands for a watchdog agency with investigative powers to oversee the work of police. And so the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) came into being. It was independent and equipped with an investigative machinery. INDECOM is now at the scene of most incidents involving the police and has been active in prosecutions.
Some police officers tend to place the blame for the current state of affairs on INDECOM, which they say tip the balance more heavily in favour of offenders and has tied their hands.
Back in the day, it was rare for a police member to be brought before a court of law. Nowadays, though, there is a long list of policemen and policewomen facing a slew of criminal charges, ranging from murder to extortion and bribery.
Every time one of these cases makes the news, it does damage to the police force and leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Take the uneasy relationship between the police and operators of public passenger vehicles. There are unconfirmed reports that some police personnel are active players in that sector, either owning vehicles or being connected to owners.
There are also claims of extortion against the police. Conflicted members of the police force, and we hope they are few, help to fan the flames of disrespect, but the society ought not to countenance a situation where citizens resist the authority of the police by assaulting them.
When we take a wider look at society, we observe a general of lack of respect for authority, which includes our Parliament, schools, hospitals, and other public places.
If indeed the majority still regards the police as protectors of the community, then we must use the power of numbers to reverse this trend and restore respect for law and order.
The loss of trust between the police and the citizens they serve must be mended.
It is vital for a healthy democracy to function properly that there be mutual respect and trust between the police and the public.