Thursday, January 28, 2021

Botswana police ÔÇô the good the bad and the ugly

From a safe distance of a walled, guard-dogged and alarm-fenced home whose security has been breached yet, the story of violent and or intrusive crime in Botswana is torrid, dangerous and ambiguous. Issues of crime are often spoken about in general and personal terms, invoking wild xenophobic sentiments and in anger and dismay at alleged police inefficiencies. Feeding into this fear are the all too familiar stories about someone who knows someone who’s been a victim of crime at work and at play: Botswana is no longer as safe as it used to be. The police’s public relations office churns out statistical data every week to corroborate that there is a problem. Earlier in the week, Botswana television beamed footage of the Botswana Police Commissioner Thebeyame Tsimako reporting that to a weeklong conference attended by, among others, the state president Lt. Gen. Ian Khama, that his men and women had reduced the levels of violent and intrusive crime by some seven per cent. The crimes Commissioner Tsimako was referring to includes store-breaking, burglary, housebreaking, theft, robbery and attempts thereto. The police refer to them as “corporate targeted offences,” meaning they have taken it upon themselves to stop them from occurring at such alarming rates. To put them in perspective, police recorded 3330 burglaries between September 2009 and March 2010, 1671 store breakings, 1402 robberies and attempts and 2748 house breakings and theft nationwide. The report for the current quarter will be end of July. In the same eight month reporting periods, a total of 175 138 criminal cases, including the above-mentioned ones, were reported in police stations all over the country. These include road traffic, penal code and other offenses. In addition, sixty-six murders plus 441 rapes occurred during the last two quarters; a grim picture by any standard, considering that these statistics are from only 18 stations of the three policing divisions. Looking at the numbers from the police records and regarding Botswana’s population, can citizens hope to get their peace of mind and live securely in their homes or walk the streets unmolested? Six-year-old official figures placed number of incarcerated people in Botswana at over 35 000. When he discusses crime and gives insight into criminality agenda in the Botswana context, Deputy Commissioner of Police- Operations, Kenny Kapinga is thorough and deliberate. Being the ‘other’ second man from the top in the police service, he’s very close to the action. All the operational reports from the different divisions, traffic department and the CID land on his desk.

In an interview to explain how the Botswana Police Services is doing in light of the staggering crime rates, the FBI trained Deputy Commissioner told the Sunday Standard recently. Answering questions about police efficiency, he said: “We measure our efficiency by our detection rate. This is the number of apprehended perpetrators in reported cases. We don’t measure it with conviction rate because to secure convictions for crimes committed, we work with prosecutors and others in the justice system. Our current detection levels are not good enough though. A good detection rate should be hovering around 60-70 per cent.” He doesn’t have the correct figures with him but surmises that they are somewhere around 50 percent. However, he gives detection rate for murder cases at a whooping 98 or 99 per cent. For the ones that fall through the cracks, who outsmart the long arm of the law, he says, that’s just the way it is. The reality of policing is that some crimes go undetected. Botswana Police Service is organized around three police functions- prevention of crime, enforcement of laws and finding and arresting criminals.

The thing about murder in Botswana is that, Kapinga says, it is almost never the pre-meditated kind. A few guys would be sitting in a sheeben sharing a drink and suddenly an altercation would escalate in to a murder. Some murders are committed in full view of witnesses who know the killer. Kapinga is also a lawyer by profession. Certainly a boon for his line of work, Kapinga maintains that his training in law allows him to understand his turf and the rules of engagement better. “Obviously, I understand the law better, and I am able to understand it works as an abler, it helps us because often, we can identify some aspects of the law that we can leverage to be more effective. Also, being a lawyer allows me to see the loopholes that are working to our disadvantage. When that happens, we can talk to the Attorney General or any other ministry as the case may be so that legislative action can be taken to remedy it,” he said. Talking about the laws that grease police work to keep criminals off the street, Kapinga said Botswana has very good laws.

The speed with which cases are recorded, assessed, for sufficient evidence and the commencement of criminal proceedings are slow. “What is not working well is the criminal justice system as a whole. The systems that make sure that criminals go through prosecution and punished within a reasonable time are slow. If it were fast enough, if everyone could see criminals being caught and prosecuted swiftly, chances are, others could see crime as a high risk endeavor and possibly abandon thoughts of taking up criminal activities,” he said. Kapinga maintains that despite all the problems the Botswana police encounters in the line of the duty to keep the country safe, Botswana Police Service is a sterling performer. “In my view, Botswana Police Service is the best police service all round when you compare statistics. We benchmark with the best in the world. Some of our members trained in the United Kingdom, the United States and other places. We apply what we’ve learned in the field. Despite Kapinga’s buoyant outlook, the Botswana Police service still grapples with incidences of lawlessness in the law enforcement structures. Even president Khama on Monday in the BTV news bulletin said his office does receive reports of police impropriety in the line of duty. Police in their standard issue jackets, with neon green reflectors in them are solicitors and receivers of bribes from members of the public. An anecdote was told about police officers casually getting ready for patrol duty imploring one of them to get the “moneylink card,” referring to the reflector jacket and the fact that wearing it on the street guaranteed a ‘corrupt’ officer some proceeds from ‘bribing’ civilians. Kapinga said BPS deals with corrupt police officers sternly to ensure service integrity. “We dismiss them. If a police officer is caught doing crime, we act quickly to remove them from the service. We have never been afraid to investigate any allegation against one another. He said they get to find out about corruption allegations through formal complaints by members of the public, through other law enforcement agencies such as the DCEC and through the Police Service itself. Regarding corruption within the Police Service, Kapinga said it is not a new phenomenon because deviance is inherent in every society. From his point of view, it has always existed and will probably always exist, the most important thing is to reduce it to a bare minimum. “What differs now is the extent to which it exists. Critical areas where it appears that corruption was becoming systematic were the traffic department, in issues dealing with illegal immigrants and where some officers were selling dockets. We have now been able to reduce those problems drastically by firing those concerned. We believe that it sends a strong message that corruption will not be tolerated in the Police Service,” he said. In the past, Kapinga said, police officers used to maintain strict code of conduct against fraternal relations between officers of different ranks so as to enable seniors to investigate their juniors without fear or favour, but all that has now changed. “Now that that cultural norm is dying, we rely on our disciplinary process made up of disciplinary boards to deal with wayward behavior. We’ve also recently created a special unit of Internal Affairs that will deal with investigating serious police malpractice or unprofessional behavior,” he explained. Kapinga said the Botswana Police Service also swears by the Police Act and their organization values to set integrity standards for the men and women in blue. He said these two documents expect a high level of integrity, confidentiality, impartiality, corruption-free behavior and respect for the law by police officers.

“Police officers are forbidden to keep known criminals in their company as friends. If you associate with people inclined to do criminal acts you’ll be taken to task about it because it is an offence under our disciplinary code to do so,” he said. Shedding light into how the police personnel are held accountable and evaluated, Kapinga spoke of rigorous and elaborate performance management mechanisms called Performance Development Plans that officers at all levels and their supervisors agree on, thus constituting officers appraisals reviewed on a quarterly bases. The resultant Annual Performance Appraisal culminates in a rating for a particular year. “The main performance indicator is the crime rate by year because the Police’s core business is to reduce crime,” he said. Going back to the statistics to consider the task that lay ahead for Commissioner Tsimako and his officers, it is hard to ignore how most of reported crime in the last two quarters seems to be occurring in Mogoditshane and Molepolole.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper