THE earliest known regimented police force in Ghana comprised recruits who were certified illiterates. The British relied on their illiteracy for efficiency. They were called 'bugabuga' who took orders without question. Massa say make I bring you.
In those days, there were no short policemen. The 'bugabuga' were tall and straight as a pole. They were trained to look unfriendly. And when it came to slapping a recalcitrant for misbehaviour, a single slap was enough to deter other potential offenders.
A policeman could single-handedly maintain order in the entire suburb of Bubuashie in Accra. He simply strolled around and his presence was felt in every home, every lane, every nook and cranny. His mere shadow was terrifying to behold.
A trouble maker was always mindful of the powerful delivery of the policeman's slap at close range. Such a slap could cause a two-week nightmare plus or minus internal bleeding.
At that time, the policeman's uniform was not black. It was brown! The black uniform is a latter-day idea, probably conceived when British suzerainty gave way to self-rule. The policeman was now attired in black outfit, black shoes and black cap, absorbing the heat from the sun.
The black-uniformed policeman looks dangerously hostile even if he is not. Black is for mourning, not keeping the peace. Black means something ominous. The top-ranking policemen managed to attire themselves in a gabardine-like material, looking more human.
Ghanaians have complained about the black uniforms for decades. They have seen British and American policemen on television in blue, smart-looking and professional in outlook, not black and miserably looking. So they complained but it fell on deaf ears.
This week, it was announced that black-uniformed cops will be a matter of the past. Ghanaian policemen will be differently attired, hurray! The cops will look like Yankee policemen and of course, walk like them. They will also be permitted to dance like them. This is not a presidential initiative.
It is my hope that with a change in uniform, there will also be a change in attitudes so that an entirely modern police force will be presented to Ghanaians.
Currently, there are a good number of policemen in the system doing some great job, catching the criminals and bringing them to book. The problem is that there is also a good number, negating the good reports of the dutiful and patriotic ones.
Gone are the days, though, when a policeman shot a warning-shot and the bullet ended in somebody's nose. In those days, warning shots were aimed at the forehead so that if it missed, it could at least lodge in the nostrils. The idea was to disperse rioters. And how could that be done without bullets finding new homes in the ears and knee-caps of the rioters?
Today, there is a more professional police force. However, some of them have still not purged themselves of the 'bugabuga' ways. They still slap suspects, to teach them where power lies. This is not policing. It is an abuse of human rights.
What happens when a suspect is tortured and in the end he is found to be innocent? The police must be re-orientated to understand the importance of protecting rights instead of abusing them.
And the police should stop swooping on people and parading them on television as prostitutes. Do they know what that means? It means, those swooped upon have been tried by the entire population of Ghana (via television) before they even appeared before the judge to be judged innocent or guilty. That is bad policing.
Should any of them be found innocent by the judge, how does she redeem her tarnished image? With certain sensitive cases, policemen should not be too over-zealous in parading suspects before the cameras. Redeeming one's damaged image is a very difficult process no one should be saddled with.
Now, the most important role Ghanaians want the police to play is to provide personal security so that armed robbers will not continue to have a field day.
That calls into question whether or not the police patrols in the communities and on the highways are taking place. If robbers know that patrols are constantly being done, they'll stop attacking people.
Even in the 'bugabuga' days, a single policeman's stroll was effective enough to prevent crime. So jeep and car patrols should be the rule if truly we want to stem the tide of crime. In other words, the patrols will make it impossible for crime to flourish.
Finally, policemen should learn to be polite. They should be educated on this before handed their new uniforms. They should not talk like the 'bugabuga' people. They should learn consciously to use words like "please", "kindly", etc. For example, "Kindly let me see your driving licence." Not, "Commot your driving licence come here right now."
The newly-uniformed cops should have a civil tongue.