God help us

By Raffique Shah
May 28, 2024

Raffique ShahThe Commissioner of Police, Mrs Erla Christopher, should be least surprised when an avalanche of criticisms rolled in her direction, threatening to bury her, when in other circumstances, she should have celebrated her re-appointment to lead the Police Service for another year beyond the mandatory retirement age.

After all, here’s a woman who has spent all of her adult life being a police officer, likely as a constable initially and working her way up the ranks over many years. In the face of insults hurled at her, members of the public need to understand how she must feel offended. Her righteous indignation, however, has in turn angered a population that is drowning in a wave of crime that has now spread to almost every part of the country, that she and her 6,000 or 8,000 or however many officers are battling—a beast that seems to have extraordinary power, money, guns, and tentacles.

We, the victims, need to understand that every police officer is a prime target for criminals who seem to have absolutely no regard for any living being, far less a police officer who is seen as an enemy. Every day that he or she comes awake/alive, he must thank his God for such mercy. On the other hand, the moment the public sees a police raid on suspects which, in the recent kidnapping, ended with four “suspects” dead from bullets fired by the police, they ask all kinds of uncomfortable questions. It’s not that they are wrong: too often in the past police officers have shot and killed “suspects” who could have better been dealt with alive. They might in such cases have given information on gangs and individuals in criminal enterprises that could have helped the police in other cases, or even solve the one they are connected with. It is true that dead men tell no tales. But alive, they may yield much information that could be useful to the police and other government agencies.

As it stands, crime being endemic, if not, an epidemic to the society as a whole, most people don’t give a damn what happens to those suspected of being criminals. Commissioner Christopher must view the public’s criticisms of her in this wider context. The crime rate, especially murders, is galloping at a dizzying pace as it never before had: five murders per day; it has now become routine that they happen in “broad daylight”, as my colleagues in the media love to say, to add some spice to their reports, which is unnerving to the populace. Murders alone account for at least three, oftentimes five deaths. When robberies with violence or aggravation are added, the number of near-death incidents—that may have left 60-100 citizens both physically and emotionally scarred and entire communities in fear of being the next victim of what we now euphemistically call “home invasions”—rises.

As we all know, many so-called petty crimes—snatch and grab, praedial larceny, petty theft—are omitted from the main reports, but could add, say, 1,000 such incidents a day. For a country our size and given our demographics, those numbers are astounding. Citizens expect their police officers to protect them. You and I know this latter is near impossible. They must safeguard themselves and their families by paying more attention to their safety wherever they may be. The police cannot be everywhere; and worse than that, the police won’t know everything, so the role of citizens in crime prevention increases. I am amazed when I read of gunmen casually prowling at or near to many popular “liming spots”, mingling among regular law-abiding limers at some ungodly hours, that not unexpectedly come under fire: the gunmen are merely staging training exercises for their next big job. Tell me why, in this crime-ridden environment, people would choose to be outside their locked doors after midnight? Because, let’s face it, even your premises with all your walls, cameras, alarms, guard dogs and so on, are just as vulnerable as the street in front your home.

Such irresponsibility attributed to carelessness on the part of the average citizens does not negate or exclude the function of the police in our society. They are paid to protect and serve, as such, they have an obligation to secure citizens as best they can in accordance with their oaths of office. When, for whatever reasons, crime spikes anywhere in the country, the people expect the police to intervene and arrest the trend. CoP Christopher, who is overall in command of this army of law enforcers, will be held responsible, like commissioners before her, for their actions or inactions. In her case, it starts with whenever she opens her mouth and the words pouring out never seeming to make sense, far less give comfort or assurance to the public about their safety and security concerns. Yet she chose to seek, and was granted, another year in office.

If Christopher is our best, God help us.

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