There is an outcry following a recent upsurge of incidents of murder and robberies in Malawi. Some say the development is a result of the abrogation of the shoot-to-kill directive by President Joyce Bandaâ€™s government. Anthony Kasunda speaks to Malawi Police Service (MPS) spokesperson Davie Chingwalu on what the law enforcers are doing to contain the situation.
Of late, we have seen crime rate rising, especially after the shoot-to-kill directive was reversed. What is the police doing about this?
Currently, MPS has intensified security in the country, especially in those parts that were hit by robberies. Statistical analysis of the period from January to June 2012 shows that we have registered 32 883 cases throughout the country. When compared to the same period in 2011, we have an 18 percent decrease because in 2011 we registered 40 202 cases.
However, we have experienced an increase in some high-impact crimes like murder, robberies and housebreaking offences, especially in cities, and with the media [highlighting the incidents], the fear of crime has risen tremendously. Our efforts are now targeting at addressing this trend. We are grateful to members of the public who are giving us information that has led to some major arrests and recoveries, for example, the arrests of five suspects who were involved in the K27 million robbery at Crossroads in Lilongwe.
You have given me the statistics, but if I put to you that the perception out there is that there is security breakdown in the country, what would you say?
Perceptions of crime are built on two situations. First, the actual crime taking place in the community and second, the fear of crime that is based on the stories about crime that are circulating.
In recent weeks, there has been a heightened media attention on crime and security issues; hence, the fear of crime becomes broader than the actual crime. Nonetheless, it is the duty of the MPS to tackle both actual crime and the fear of crime. We are tackling actual crime through investigations that are normally covert and the fear of crime through visible police presence and other operations.
Why donâ€™t you just maintain the shoot-to-kill policy and scare criminals?
What the current leadership is emphasising on is that policing in the country has to take place in consistent with constitutional and legal provisions of the land. The behaviour of police officers has to be professional, courteous and in full recognition of human dignity.
The police needs to remain tough and firm on criminals without being abusive. The police is empowered to use firearms according to Section 44 of the Police Act. Our law enforcement efforts should always be legal.
In the past, we have seen the police teaming up with Malawi Defence Force (MDF) in operations to smoke out criminals. Any plans for a similar exercise?
This option remains open to us always. We are always grateful for the assistance and the complementary role that the MDF plays. We are currently working on safety and security issues as a police service. If the fundamentals on the ground change for us to need the services of the MDF, we will use the same modalities that we have used in the past to engage them.
There are reports of complaints of lack of motivation among police officers. Is there anything being done to motivate them so that they deal with crime effectively?
It is said motivation is like petty cash, it constantly needs replenishment. It is for this reason that recently, over 800 police officers have been promoted to various ranks throughout the service. This is the first time such a high number of officers have been promoted.
The Inspector General (IG) and the Deputy IG (operations) have so far visited all main police stations in the South, Central and Eastern regions interacting with the officers and providing assurance and motivation. In any organisation, management has to be on the lookout for declining motivation. Some of the causes of low motivation are long term, e.g. lack of housing that needs long-term solutions.
It is not only about promotions. Some officers say the top management does not protect them. The IG also mentioned the same recently. Now they are even refusing to carry guns for fear that if they use them, they might end up being arrested. Is this true?
Let us be emphatic here. Police officers are empowered by the law to carry firearms and use them as stipulated in Section 44 of the Police Act. The guidelines of their use are very clear. Police officers are also trained on the use of such firearms. Let them use their professionalism in this regard. In that way, no officer will feel constrained. They should use their full sense of judgement, knowledge, skills and competency.
Any word to Malawians who are living in fear?
MPS is mandated to provide safety and security to the people of this country. On the other hand, MPS cannot work in isolation. We need members of the public as much as they need the police.
For investigations to be effectively done, it means some people have given information and other services to the police. This is our country which we have to be proud of by playing various roles which include participating in issues of policing. MPS will make every effort to intensify security to ensure that people are living in peace.