RESTORATION OF PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN THE POLICE: A HERCULEAN TASK
In the course of the past weeks, Nigeria has witnessed protests, the likes of which had not been witnessed before, against Police brutality. From Lagos to Abuja, from Nguru to Port-Harcourt, the message has been the same: there must be an end to the ills such as extra judicial killings, indiscriminate arrests, detention, harassment, extortion etc perpetuated for so long by the Police in Nigeria of which the now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Unit (SARS) had become most notorious. How and why things got so bad have been detailed several times in the past. I had in the past written a series of articles detailing not only the history of police failings in Nigeria but also highlighting much needed reforms required to bring about effective law enfacement in Nigeria. It is regrettable that the authorities allowed things to come to the extent witnessed in recent days.
In any event, the focus now must be on how to restore public confidence in the Police as without such confidence, the police would be unable to carry out their statutory roles. It is for this reason that my focus at this time will be on how to restore such public confidence. To do this it is necessary to firstly state the basic duties of the police.
POLICE DUTIES UNDER THE LAW
The powers and duties of the Nigeria Police Force are contained principally in the Police Act Cap 359 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 while some incidental powers are conferred by the common law and a variety of other statutes. The general duties are defined in Section 4 of the Police Act to be:
“...the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged”.
In examining the duties of the police within the context of Nigerian law vis-à-vis what obtains in other climes across the globe, regard must be had to the aims and objectives of the founding fathers of modern police.
As early as 1829, Sir Richard Mayne, in Britain, wrote the following:-
“The primary objectives of an efficient police is the prevention of crime: the next, that of detection and punishment of offenders if crime is committed. To these ends, all the efforts of police must be directed. The protection of life and property, the preservation of public tranquility, and the absence of crime, will alone prove whether those efforts have been successful and whether the objectives for which the police were appointed have been attained.”
In attaining the noble objectives set by Sir Richard Mayne as quoted above, it is believed, according to the extract from the Instruction Book of Metropolitan Police Service of England, that a lot depends on the approval and cooperation of the public as these have always been determined by the degree of esteem and respect in which the police are held. One of the key principles of modern policing in Britain is that the police seek to work with the community and as part of the community. For a proper understanding of the duties cum functions of modern policing perhaps it is necessary, to state the nine principles as enunciated by the founder of modern policing in person of Sir Richard Peel. They are known as Sir Robert Peel’s nine principles stated hereunder.
- The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
- The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.
- Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
- The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
- Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
- Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.
- Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interest of community welfare and existence.
- Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary;
- The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.
The very first principle of Sir Robert Peel in modern policing (above) accords with the first duty of the police as contained in Section 4 of the Police Act, Cap 359, Laws if the Federation of Nigeria 1990 which provides:-
“The police shall be employed for the prevention and detention of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or without Nigeria as may be required by then by, or under the authority of this or any other Act.”
Thus the prevention of crime and disorders as the basic mission (and reason) for the existence of the police according to Sir Robert Peel and “the prevention and detection of crime” according to the Police Act are one and the same.
Let us examine first the concept of crime prevention before examining the other side of the same coin that is crime detection. The Chambers Dictionary (New Edition) defines “crime” as “a violation of law, especially if serious; an act punishable by law; such acts collectively or in the abstract; an act of serious moral wrongdoing; sin; something deplorable.”
On the other hand Black’s Law Dictionary 7th Edition defines “crime” as “a social harm that the law makes punishable; the breach of a legal duty treated as the subject-matter of a criminal proceeding.” From the two definitions above, one connecting thread flows all through: crime connotes that act or omission committed or made against the society which attracts the sanction of the law governing such society.”
“Prevention” on the other hand, according to Chambers Dictionary means the action of preventing; avoidance or preclusion of something by care and forethought; an anticipation or premonition; an obstruction.
From the definitions proffered above, we can safely regard crime prevention as the act of avoiding or precluding from occurring the deplorable act or omission that the society makes illegal and or unlawful. Viewed from any vantage point, the duty of crime prevention imposed on the police by the law of the land is, to say the least, onerous. And it is my humble submission that for the police to perform this all-important duty efficiently, effectively, creditably and admirably, the total support of the society or community is a sine qua non.
Since policemen and women are ordinary mortals and by no stands super humans only trained in the specific art of policing, their successes and or failures, to a large extent, therefore depends on the quantum of approval and cooperation of the citizenry given the police regarding the performance of their duties. The public, simply put, remains the bastion-indeed the bulwark of the police’s discharge of the onerous duty of crime prevention.
The act of discovering or revealing something that was hidden, especially to solve a crime.” There is a clear distinction between inducing a person to do an unlawful act and setting a trap to catch him in the execution of a criminal plan of his own conception. There is also a distinction between the terms “detection” and “entrapment”, as applied to the activities of law enforcement officers. Legitimate detection of crime occurs when officers test a suspected person by offering him an opportunity to transgress the law in such manner as is usual in the activity alleged to be unlawful. On the other hand, entrapment occurs when officers induce a person to violate the law when he would not otherwise do so.”
Having gone through the preliminaries of the onerous twin duty of crime prevention and detection, the question that needs to be asked is how far have the police been able to discharge these duties against the backdrop of the extremely limited resources of the police in terms of fund, personnel, equipment etc. It is common knowledge that Nigeria has, of late, become a crime-infested country. The over three decades of the ruinous military rule representing Nigeria’s years of the locust, did not, by any stretch of the imagination better the lot of the Police on this part of the globe. If anything, the duty of crime prevention and detention, was made more herculean. For the police, it has become an energy-sapping exercise.
Let us take the first part of the twin duty-crime prevention. All that the law enjoins the police to do is to ensure that the commission of crime is avoided or precluded. In other words serious violations of law, acts of serious moral wrongdoing, social harms punishable by law just to mention a few are to be avoided or precluded by the citizenry courtesy of the police. This cannot happen if the citizens do not trust the Police.
To be continued…..
AARE AFE BABALOLASAN, CON, LL.D (Lond.), FCIArb, FNSE