An Indian community policing group in Limbe, Blantyre, is using a police emblem on its branded patrol vehicles, which the Malawi Police Service (MPS) says is illegal.
For instance, a dual cab canopy Mazda, registration BM 4011—which moves around Mudi area has the words ‘Mudi Police Patrol’ superimposed on the logo at the back.
One of the community policing leaders at Mudi a Mr Makbul confirmed the use of the emblems in an interview but said police were better placed to comment on how such was allowed.
He said he has been chairperson of the group for the past six years and found the practice intact.
In a telephone interview chairperson of National Community Policing in Malawi Yunus Lambat said he has reservations with the use of police symbols by communities at Mudi, adding that he raised the concerns with a former commissioner of police but no action was taken.
He said branding neighbourhood watch patrol vehicles with police logos is wrong since a civilian driving such a vehicle risks being attacked by robbers for being mistaken for a police officer.
Said Lambat: “I failed to reason with the leadership of the community policing at Mudi. Why should a civilian drive a vehicle with the Malawi Police Service symbols? It is not right.”
He added that it was better if such vehicles were donated to MPS and let the law enforcers do the job.
But National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera, in an interview, claimed that police were not aware of the use of MPS symbols on private vehicles until Weekend Nation informed them.
He admitted that the use of the emblem is “an abuse,” and promised to take action to stop the community from using it.
Said Kadadzera: “I didn’t know that this is happening. Use of Malawi Police Service symbols can be misunderstood by the public, and the vehicle can also be used for other unlawful activities.”
A security expert described the development as damaging to police’s image, saying it also speaks volumes of inefficiencies by police to provide security to citizens.
But when asked what action the police will take on the people unlawfully using the symbols, Kadadzera was non-committal and dodgy.
He also could not explain how the group acquired the symbol and whether such suspected ‘illegal’ acquisition doesn’t warrant a charge and an appearance in a court of law.
The Protected Names and Emblems Act gives powers to the police to seize anything contravening the law.
Section 7(1) says if a police officer has reasonable cause to believe that something which was used, displayed, manufactured or imported contrary to the Act is found on any premises, he or she may require the person in charge or appearing to be in charge of the premises to allow him to enter the premises and afford him all reasonable facilities for search thereof, and if entry cannot be obtained within a reasonable period, the officer may without a warrant enter the premises (using force if necessary).
The Act, in Section 6(3), prescribes a penalty of £500 and six months imprisonment for contravening it.
Weighing in on the issue, lecturer in the department of governance, peace and security Studies at Mzuzu University Eugenio Njoloma observed that the development entails the diminishing of the effectiveness of the MPS in providing security to citizens.
He said: “Using police identities is unlawful and is potentially detrimental to police or public relations, especially where those involved only seem to service specific communities or their own communities, and appear to target or deviate their community policing attentions from other native communities.”
The security expert pointed out that given the significance of community policing, it is important that the law enforcers adequately engage communities on dos and don’ts not just for effective policing, but also for a cordial relationship between communities and the police.
Said Njoloma: “The group has gone overboard. They have an agreement with police, but surely not to use their logo.”
A former Inspector General (IG) of police who opted for anonymity squarely heaped the blame on negligence by police to police the situation.
The former IG wondered how such a scenario has been allowed to thrive in a city like Blantyre arguing that the whole thing smacks of laxity by officers.