Within the law enforcement sphere, there is perhaps no bigger sin than that of cowardice. In fact, the world has always honoured courage and stigmatized cowardice. Thus, bravery is an essential attribute for those who enlist in security establishments. In the military for instance, a soldier who is court martialled and convicted of cowardice shall suffer death.
In spite of their slow response when called in and their selective operational capabilities that are often biased in favour of the elites, I still have faith in the Botswana Police Service. I reckon that the Police have a tough job more so that they are under-resourced compared to other law enforcement agents, which perhaps influenced my decision to rarely criticize the quality of services they offer. Police officers often operate in life threatening environment which means that being a cop has certain inbuilt risks.
Naturally, this means that cops often have to navigate these complex scenarios to try to minimize their exposure to injury or death. At times this could mean doing so at the expense of the very people they have sworn to protect. While being a cop is dangerous and requires considerable bravery, it isn’t nevertheless a hard task. Thus, we do not need super heroes or mystical cops to do the policing. We need people who are adequately prepared, having the requisite physical and mental fortitude necessary to deal with challenging situations and willing to use their brains and perhaps not afraid of their shadows.
Yet a good number of our cops would pay a huge price for their reticence to do what obviously has to be done, either because they are cowards or are simply seeking to minimize their risk of injury or death. Their indifference behaviour and lackadaisical approach to policing warrant critical reflection. To begin with, it is contended that no one is drafted into the police service. People join the police service or other security establishments of their own free will and make a solemn vow to protect the nation.
While this may not imply that the cops have to throw themselves in front of a moving train, it nevertheless infer that it would be criminal for cops to abandon their duties and surrender their service badge in the face of thugs. The reported gang violence in the village of Thamaga that left an elderly woman dead, calls into question the capability and willingness of the cops to stamp out this abominable social ill. My analysis of the police response to this crisis as reported, read together with similar cases is that most police officers are too scared to do their work. For instance, not so long ago a neighbour got to become a victim of night time house robbery.
As is expected, the police were called in at the earliest opportunity. While I was never surprised at the inordinate time it took them to show up, what surprised me most was that when they did finally show up, their conduct was not in keeping with the basic tactics of confident security agents determined to nab criminals trapped inside the house they were ransacking. When the cops were approaching the location, the officers inexplicably revved the engine of their vehicle.
Common sense would dictate that the security personnel should have tried to arrive unnoticed so that they ambush and apprehend the thieves. My conclusion then was that the police revved their vehicle’s engine deliberately to give the thieves advance warning to wind up their looting and disappear before the police could enter the premises. Many times the police have defended their slow response blaming it on lack of resources especially transport.
Other times they claim that they lost their way to the crime scene. Whereas these could be credible and legitimate excuses, The Badge of Courage is tempted to hold the view that in most cases when the police are called to a crime scene especially at night, they are filled with so much fear that they inevitably adopt a reactive approach by deliberately getting lost to give thieves time to escape so that the police are not under fire from the thugs.
This analysis may sound ridiculous but there is strong evidence or hint that our cops are too scared to police. This is understandable especially when you consider today’s sophisticated criminals including ex-commandos and self-trained knife armed petty thieves. Yester year cops had courage and had the physical fortitude to chase amateur robbers and were relatively confident and competent in using their bare hands to protect themselves in situations where the criminal would not be having a lethal weapon. I often get misty-eyed whenever a cop approaches me even when I am confident that I committed no crime or a slightest misdemeanour. The cause of my being profusely afraid is because today’s cops are too keen to strike first when the tinniest scuffle ensues often due to their being cowards and scared.
When one is a coward, every suspect is considered extremely dangerous hence the need to paralyze them to ensure personal safety. When cops are called to a petty crime scene like where a drunken dude is peeing on a vendor’s merchandize, they will often come in troops as though they are going for war. This often has to do with their fears and lack of specialized training to handle complex situations that requires minimum use of force. The fear that envelopes Police Officers can lead to desperation, vengeance and excessive use of force to suppress suspects.
This representation of the Botswana Police Service is not intended to ridicule the officers but rather it is intended to give an honest picture of our police service and provide a candid explanation for their substandard services especially their slow response to distress calls by members of the public and their inability to handle sensitive situations that nevertheless requires least possible use of force. Going forward, there is need for effective intervention measures that should include re-training especially in advanced self-defence, negotiation skills and conflict intervention skills.
Most importantly, the Botswana Police Service should consider arming police officers with tasers and other non-lethal weapons such as pepper sprays and so forth. This will ensure that the cops are relatively or symbolically protected and equipped to deal with challenging circumstances without using lethal force hence they will be confident to police dangerous streets and endeavour to arrest suspects rather than aiding them to flee and carry on with their criminal activities.