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Friday, January 27, 2023

Policing elections for conflict or peace

HomeAYV NewsPolicing elections for conflict or peace

Policing elections for conflict or peace

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Conflict, as a technical term is characterized by an absence of agreement, where there are opposing interests and the ability to wage violence or more importantly the threat of violence is much more a reality than an eventuality. In a post conflict environment, the responsibility for law and order though regained within the peace building stage can easily be compromised by acts or omissions by the body politik. It can also be threatened by a lapsed attention to the core policing modalities such as a formidable command and control structure existing within a fully functional civilian oversight mechanism.

While the above may be argued to be variously burdened with theoretical policing methodologies, it is clear that the Police Force has to move away from its traditional position as a heavy handed institution, loathed because it is seen as one that restricts the rights of individuals to free movement or association within a political and socio-economic dynamic. The move to a more professional Police Force is one that must be seen to be visible both in the conduct of police business and the behaviour of police officers.

The conduct of police business is primarily concerned with the actions taken by the Police when they are engaged with the people to whom their services are required. A Police officer approached over a minor domestic affair would be moved at first to seek a settlement of the issues in a rational way. His actions may fall outside of his operational orders but then again, the parties to the matter may have indicated that a fair warning or caution would be sufficient to remedy the matter at hand. This conduct of Police business may tend to present a humane face of the Police to the public that they serve. The Police on the other hand may have succeeded in demonstrating a human side, an empathic approach by the exercise of discretion that the job requires at times. The conduct of Police business in this way is therefore a clear indication of a professional force and an institution that is geared up to deal with local issues in a manner reflective of local conditions. There would be times when the conduct of Police business may be more troublesome, more demanding and much more aggravating. In a public order situation where the threat of violence is much more real, it is left to the Police man on the beat or the Officer Commanding to make a quick decision on the most appropriate course of action. At such times, Police engagements become much less predictable and actions more subject to query or complaint. The essence of dealing with a public order violence or threat of violence is considerably more violent and this time by the authority empowered to invoke that violence in the name of the State. This is when allegations of political manipulation or the control of the state apparatus becomes a most used rationalization of police brutality. What is lost in that interpretation is the imperative for the Police and the State to be partners together in securing law and order and that when that partnership is compromised, we are left with nothing but anarchy, conflict and civil war.

The behaviour of Police Officers on the other hand is concerned mainly with personal attitude and approach to the job, and a realization of the respective contributions that Officers make within the chain of command. Police Officers have a personal duty to uphold the tenets of good policing, to follow their operational orders and to act at all times in the best interests of the institution. The actions that would bring disrepute to the force are now actionable under the current regime and it is this reason that sets aside the Police Force in Sierra Leone as a disciplined and well managed entity. In international Peacekeeping operations, the Sierra Leone Police has excelled in many ways, bringing plaudits and praise for their professionalism and attitude to their theatres of deployment. One key reason for this can be attributed to the emphasis that the Inspector General of Police and the Executive Management Board have put on progressive learning, education and a general professional attitude for serving officers.  The adoption of several key policies which enhance career prospects and welfare have also been instructive. The force is now seen as a more transparent and value based organisation with opportunities for personal advancement to those who offer the appropriate aptitude.

The objective of the above analysis goes to the issue of policing for peace rather than conflict, including a rationalization of the decisions that need to be taken if modern policing methods now being applied at the Sierra Leone Police can secure and consolidate the peace gained after such a brutal conflict that was experienced in this country. The objective is surely to police for peace, an inclination of a progressive and professional force with a clear mandate and a functional command and control structure.

One thing Inspector General of Police Francis Munu has proudly guarded has been the neutrality and focus on the functionality of a disciplined and professional force. In this regard, the duty to protect is paramount for the Sierra Leone Police and for that matter, the force engages on community based awareness raising initiatives and a more robust community connectedness, linking with potential areas for violence recruiters or stations where errant youths can be taken advantage of. In policing for peace, the Sierra Leone Police has to engage itself fully with appropriate messaging in the period coming up to general elections here so that the communities are prepared just as it had been in 2012 when free and fair elections were policed across the country with no significant casualties to report.

The experience of other countries in the West African sub-region can be instructive in this effort and for that matter, the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Richard Moigbe, has just returned from Ghana with other ranking officers, attending a conference dealing with these very same issues of policing elections in the sub region. Ghana extols its own virtues after policing a change-over of power just last year while the experience of Ivory Coast that led in the end to conflict and a reinstatement of the eventual winner provides some food for thought. In the end, what is clear and even more reassuring is that the cadres of the Sierra Leone Police are being availed of best practice and are fully engaged in learning for a better delivery of policing in this country.

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