Police force reform long overdue

HARARE - One of the core functions of any national police force is to maintain law and order. In discharging that important responsibility, there must be a presumption of innocence when a crime is perceived to have been committed until the suspect is proven guilty by a competent court.

Somehow, our police are getting this twisted.

Recent events suggest that there could be an unwritten rule informing the operations of our law enforcement agents whereby the police are using live ammunition to deal with suspects.

Last week, two vendors were killed in central Harare following clashes between kombi operators and members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) over a council directive prohibiting commuter omnibus operators from dropping and picking up passengers in the Central Business District.

Just as well, the outrage that followed the implementation of this directive by the city fathers forced Local Government minister, July Moyo, to reverse the ban. But not before precious lives had been lost.

In another incident, a man from Bikita in Masvingo Province suspected of have stolen nine turkeys from fellow villagers was also shot and killed last week.

These two incidents come barely a month after the new administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa had made major changes in the police force, including retiring long serving commissioner-general, Augustine Chihuri, under whose stewardship the ZRP sank to its lowest depths. While the new police chief, Godwin Matanga, has since admitted that the police had gone wayward and promised to repair the ZRP’s soiled image, the horrific killings of vendors and a suspected thief in Bikita show that it is easier said than done.

The level of unprofessionalism being exhibited by some within the force indicates that there is urgent need for retraining to reorient those who are out of step with what is expected of them under the new dispensation.

The country cannot afford losing lives willy-nilly at the hands of trigger-happy police officers when more humane methods of policing could have sufficed, saved lives and bring about justice. Although Matanga has apologised for the deaths of the two vendors in Harare, many people are still not convinced why the police did not use rubber bullets to quell the demonstrations?

These unfortunate incidents have the effect of tarnishing the country’s image at a time when so much work is being directed towards repairing the damage caused by the previous administration of Robert Mugabe.

It would be unfair though to judge Matanga using these two isolated incidents but it is quite obvious that reforming the police is going to take much more than public apologies and statements of good intent.

 

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