In the eyes of many Malawians, the police are not doing enough to fight crime. The country has witnessed a spate of armed robberies, acts of murder and burglaries over the past few months. Even high profile individuals have not been spared. And it seems the police have not found effective ways to deal with the rising crime wave. Fighting crime is not just about resources. It also about strategies.
It is a known fact that the deviants are adopting sophisticated methods to steal. Police need to be proactive and adopt a wide range of strategies. One of the effective ways to combat crime is to regularly conduct ‘stop and search operations’ in public places as a matter of routine. It should be part of visible community policing. Motorists should not be spared. Armed robbers use vehicles and look innocent, so the police should not be fooled by searching pedestrians only. This also applies to stopping and searching a suspicious vehicle or strange-looking occupants. Such operations can lead to confiscation of drugs, unlicensed firearms and stolen items. However, care should be taken not to abuse human rights or harass people.
Closely related to ‘stop and search operations’ are ad hoc road blocks. These are more effective than permanent ones because they take criminals by surprise. Permanent road blocks make police lazy and people get away with a lot of criminal behaviour because of corruption. Government should remove many of these permanent road blocks and deploy the police on the streets, in residential areas and shopping centres.
This strategy should also be used when an armed robbery or car hijacking has taken place. Police should block all roads immediately they get the message of an armed robbery or car hijacking. They should act swiftly. Do not give robbers time. It is unfortunate that the robbers who robbed Standard Bank of K500 million in Mzuzu were not arrested within Mzuzu or at Lusangadzi road block. The fact that they were arrested at Jenda block, about 180 km from Mzuzu, is a shame to the police.
It points to poor communication and the ineffectiveness of permanent road blocks. We are now living in the information age in which communication is instant. In this case, the police in Mzuzu should have immediately informed their colleagues at Lusangadzi road block, Chikangawa Police, Raily Ply police road block, Mzimba Police and Jenda road block about the robbery. If the police had done their work, the robbers would not have reached Jenda. And when looking for a stolen vehicle, they should be targeting the vehicle type and check the engine and chassis numbers.
Police should be regularly issuing crime prevention tips to the public using media. Police have at their disposal a lot of radio and TV stations; and newspapers to disseminate information to the society. What are these police PROs for? Public relation is about communicating in a proactive not reactive manner. They should be providing such information on regular basis not just during Christmas or Easter Holidays. Criminals have no holiday.
Criminal intelligence gathering information is also critical. Police need to be conducting their own research about the modus operandi of criminals. They need to gather information about the activities of the criminals and adopt appropriate strategies. For example, if a vehicle is stolen or hijacked, how do criminals move? Do they drive off immediately or hide it behind the fence? Do they change number plates or change the paint of the vehicle? Is the vehicle stripped for spares and sold to car dealers? If a vehicle is driven outside Malawi, what are the routes used? The police need to analyse such information in detail.