Police officers survive by hook and crook

The desk sergeant at Harare Central Police Station was affable but totally helpless.

Police officers
Police officers

As the shaken young woman related the story of how her bag containing money and clothes had been stolen by thieves just outside the police station, the officer responded with exaggerated effusions of ‘Aw, shame!’ and ‘That is terrible!’

But contrary to standard police practice, the officer was not taking any notes and did not even bother to record the woman’s personal details, even just for statistical purposes. At the end of the brief interview and out of nowhere, the officer suddenly turned hostile.

“You women are a problem. How do I know you are telling the truth. Maybe you squandered your husband’s money on shopping and now you want to use the police to cover up your foolishness. Go away, we can’t help you,” the cop said, picking up his hat and joining the stream of officers going home at the end of the morning shift.

Baffled, the woman left the station with tears streaming down her cheeks.

Top lawyer and former Deputy Minister of Justice, Jessie Majome, says the police are a great let-down to women and justice delivery in Zimbabwe.

“I’m concerned about the distance between the public’s security needs and the priorities of the police,” Majome told The Zimbabwean.

Majome, who is now Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development, says the malfunctioning police system has had disastrous consequences for women, in particular. Often subjected to violence, rape and other serious crimes, women have borne the brunt of the lawlessness that is engulfing Zimbabwe. The police are often accused of failing to protect victims or actively supporting political party thugs pillaging the country in the name of various patriotic causes.

“Women deserve a police force that is genuinely professional and ably serves the security interests of the public. But right now there’re issues of access. If I go into a police station, am I guaranteed protection?” Majome said.

Bribes

Numerous studies by human rights defenders and parliamentary committees show that for the best part the Zimbabwe Republic Police

(ZRP) has become useless in solving simple crimes that affect people daily. Instead the force has become highly politicized and is often seen performing hatchet jobs for President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu (PF) party at the expense of professionalism. At the other end, the cops are just downright clumsy and corrupt, demanding bribes and sexual favours from suspects and complainants alike.

Said Majome: “It seems they have other priorities, which are political. They will react very fast if you want to hold a political rally but don’t seem to care about serious crimes that are being committed daily. We are concerned as a nation about ballooning rape cases, murder, thuggery,violence, to name a few for example.”

Earlier this year, Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri was summoned before Parliament to answer various allegations levelled against the force. Chihuri, who seems to think he is answerable only to Mugabe, was stunned by the rigorous questioning he was subjected to.

Subsequently, Chihuri issued statements condemning the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, Defence and Security.

The Committee’s chairperson, Paul Madzore says the police are just very corrupt. He wonders why they have to be paid by the state when they are not serving the public which is paying them through taxes.

“People are very disappointed by the attitude of the police. One would expect them to be professional because they are being paid from taxpayers’ money, but that is not the case,” said Madzore.

The committee wanted to institute public hearings into the conduct of the police. However, the hearings never took place because the police failed to guarantee protection for legislators, the public and officials.

In one glaring case of failure by the police, Zanu (PF) thugs invaded Parliament building in July and assaulted MPs and journalists during a public hearing. Despite the fact that the scenes were recorded on security cameras and the suspects could easily be identified and apprehended, the police have not done anything. Instead, they are pursuing a campaign of harassment and intimidation against the MDC, on behalf of Zanu (PF).

Murder

In Madzore’s Glen View constituency, the security forces allegedly staged the murder of a policeman as a pretext to move against the MDC.

Some believe the police wanted to arrest Madzore for grilling Chihuri in Parliament. However, they have so far failed to link him to the murder. Instead, they have now arrested his brother, Solomon, who is the chairman of the MDC-T Youth Assembly’.

The police have also launched a reign of terror in Glen View and other constituencies.

But for most Zimbabweans, an enduring image is that of the police taking bribes at road blocks. They usually do it quite openly and motorists have now taken it upon themselves to be the paymasters o f the normally shabbily-dressed, underpaid police officers.

“Our committee has received numerous complaints about police corruption. We would have wanted to conduct public hearings to gather evidence but we can not do it at present because the police can not protect us,” Madzore said.

Majome added: “The public perception is that the police are corrupt and they should be addressing this issue instead of pursuing personal and party vendettas.”

Bulawayo South legislator said one way of dealing with police corruption on the roads was to abolish the collection of spot fines.

Co-Minister for Home Affairs Theresa Makone says the best way of starting a restructuring of the force would be first to fire Chihuri.

Chihuri has reacted to that suggestion with scorn. But as the police continue to bungle cases, costing the state millions in payouts to aggrieved parties, it is becoming clear that something needs to be changed.

Serving officers who spoke to this newspaper confirmed that Chihuri is a major problem for those trying to do a professional job.

Recruitment and promotion is often done on the basis of allegiance to Zanu (PF) or militia training under the notorious Border Gezi scheme.

Officers frustrated

Experienced officers who can not prove loyalty to Mugabe’s party are often frustrated or hounded out of the force. This has led to a dire shortage of investigative skills, with officers resorting to violence to extract confessions. Many of the confessions have been dismissed by the courts.

“The police should be able to detect offenders without resorting to torture and violence. People want to see quality policing and respect for human rights,” Majome said.

Majome added that women in the police force are disadvantaged. She said the police had failed to achieve gender balance prescribed by United Nations Resolution 1325.

Female officers interviewed said they are being abused and subjected to sexual harassment which is now rampant within the force. Women officers are expected to wine and dine with the big fish before they get recognized.

The public is outraged by the clumsy handling of cases. In one case, a woman who was robbed of a cellphone was later shocked when the investigating officer demanded sex from her if she wanted her phone to be recovered.

“The officer kept phoning me and inviting me to the station claiming that my phone had been found. When I went there, I discovered that he was lying. He was telling people that I was his girlfriend and later asked me for sex. I never followed up on the case after that,” the woman said.

Prostitutes are also an easy target for the crooked cops, who arrest them and demand sexual favours in exchange for freedom.

Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *