I am appalled. Many would be shocked to learn, as I was during a crime awareness walk recently, that there are about 6 000 police officers in Botswana in a population of nearly 2 million. Further distressing is that statistically, there is one police officer to a cohort of about 2,400 people in Botswana. This is an outrage. No wonder criminals are having a field day at the expense of defenseless and helpless members of the public. Little surprising too that the police, more often than not, take longer than would be expected to respond to calls of distress.
What makes the situation even more unsettling is that not all police officers are assigned to fight crime directly. Some are in the forensic, public relations, training, administration units and others. Other officers are on suspension for one infraction or another while others are of poor health and, therefore, not fit to work. There are also some rogue elements in the police service who work closely with the criminal element. Discount these and the ratio of police to the population is more woeful than the one given to us at the crime awareness session.
But is it not surprising how the police appear to be so visible in spite of their small number? The answer is simple really. Every time you see them they are scurrying frantically from one problem to another only to find that the trail has gone cold. The fact that Botswana is so vast adds to their burden. So, the lack of enough police members correlates with the shocking levels of crime. And, statistics do not lie. I find it tragic that our police service should be so flippantly treated.
Unfortunately, those that were elected to sort out problems such as this one appear to be the least bothered. Even with the recent violations of the Parliamentary flats. Given that the Sir Seretse Khama Airport Police Station led the awareness march for residents that fall within their precint, area Members of Parliament, Messrs Moupo and Raletobana, had been invited well on time. None of them bothered to turn up. No reasons were advanced for their non-attendance, even by their offices.
The councilors also took the cue from their political seniors and stayed away. As a consequence, they missed out on hearing how people are violated with impunity in their own homes sometimes with tragic outcomes, and how the police are unable to cope with the tide of crime. Neighbourhood crime watching groups are thus the police’s only hope of controlling crime in residential areas. It is inconceivable that the small Sir Seretse Khama Airport Police Station, for example, can effectively service the sprawling areas of Gaborone North, Sebele, Mmopane, Block 7 and Block 8. This is in addition to providing some semblance of security at the airport.
Hopefully, Moupo and Raletobana will have the time to read this letter. After all, these are very busy chaps. Their constituents are but dim blips in their respective radar screens. But my humble advice to them would be that they go to their respective constituents and listen to concerns on this particular matter rather than remonstrate with me. Perhaps after that they would be inspired to go to Parliament and suggest ideas to their colleagues on how the police can be assisted. Addressing this morass should not be that confounding. More police officers with appropriate equipment are needed. Clearly, we need more police stations. The use of the Botswana Defence Force, while welcome given the circumstances, clouds us from seeing the dire situation our police system is in. What we need is a permanent solution. Unless something is done, mob justice, a symbol of a complete breakdown in the police, will become part of our daily lives.
In the meantime, we will continue to live in fear of brazen criminals. But given what I now know, I will refrain from criticising the police from failing to protect us adequately until they are sufficiently resourced. Those of us who have previously thought less of the Commissioner and his team certainly owe them an apology.
Criminals are, of course, anticipating a very Merry Christmas and Prosperous New Year.