By Amin Kef Sesay
The Police Force in all countries has the primary responsibility of protecting lives and property as well as maintaining law and order. In conducting these functions, it must do so with absolute respect for the rights of citizens.
Where a Police Force performs its functions independently, it becomes a very strong instrument for enforcement of law and order in society which makes it win the trust and confidence of citizens that they can depend on it for justice to be done when rights are violated.
Otherwise, if the force is unprofessional and behaves corruptly, it will have adverse implications for the safety and security of persons, the investment climate and the country’s human rights credentials.
Citizens observe that notwithstanding various reforms by three regimes after the war to spruce up the sullied image of the Police, there are still widespread allegations of their violations of human rights, mostly allegedly carried out on the orders of politicians and well to do people in society.
Torture, extra-judicial killings, prolonged pre-trial detention and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment by the Police reportedly occurred on a regular basis. However, it is noteworthy that the Management of the Force has not been blind to these aberrations from correct policing and have from time to time being taking strict disciplinary actions against erring officers in a bid to inspire public confidence and trust.
Unfortunately, recent allegations of unlawful killings and other serious human rights violations by the Police have raised questions about the commitment of the leadership to foster accountability within the institution. The public believes that until a mechanism that truly holds Police Officers to the same standard of accountability as civilians is established, the public will continue to have serious doubt about the commitment of the SLP’s leadership to bring the institution in line with the requirements of modern policing.
Impunity breeds illegality, which in turn fuels violence. Across the globe, the vogue is to promote accountability within the Police and encourage increased civilian monitoring of the institution.
The body that looks into complaints against the Police, the Complaint, Discipline and Internal Investigations Department (CDIID), consists exclusively of Police personnel.
While it has periodically taken disciplinary action against officers for professional misconduct, it has never truly investigated and published its findings on any of the serious human rights violations catalogued above.
Taking the force into the modern era, legalists opine that it is necessary to reform the legal framework of the Police and amend the Constitution, as according to them, the Police Charter of 1964 is obsolete, and that the Management structure of the Police as stipulated in the Constitution is not compatible with the demands of modern democratic policing.
To ensure the independence and impartiality of the force, opinion is that, as long as the Vice President continues to preside over the Police Council – the highest decision-making body of the police – with the Internal Affairs Minister acting as his Secretary, it is hard to imagine the Police functioning as a truly independent body.
Meanwhile, efforts at establishing an independent Police Complaints Panel, whilst laudable, many said yet to been seen operating effectively and impartially as an arbiter between the force and the public that it serves.
Opinion is that, if it is established and allowed to function as a truly independent complaints board, it could help tighten the impunity gap and restore public trust and confidence in the Police.