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31.07.2009 Feature Article

Ato Kwamena Dadzie: Shoot-to-kill - are we safe?

Police (and government) should deal with instant justice decisivelyPolice (and government) should deal with instant justice decisively
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The police administration insists that there is no official directive for officers to shoot and kill suspected armed robbers. That's hard to believe, especially after the IGP decorated and rewarded the officers who recently gunned down 12 suspected “armed robbers” in Kumasi.

Within a space of less than a month officers have shot and killed suspected robbers in four separate incidents in Accra and Kumasi. In all of these cases, officers claimed self-defence. It's a completely legitimate excuse because if a gun-toting criminal, his brains probably saturated with crack, starts shooting at an officer, no one will expect the officer to keep his gun in its holster. The fire should be generously returned. If the robber dies, we can all say he had it coming.

However, I don't trust the police. They've lied to us before with similar killings and it's hard to give them the benefit of the doubt in the recent episodes.

We were in this country when police officers shot and killed a group of young men in the Taifa suburb of Accra and tagged them as armed robbers. It was a lie. A few days after the shooting incident, it emerged that the slain men were community members who had come together to form a neighbourhood watch committee to help the police do its job.

It was also in this same country that officers fired indiscriminately into a taxi at Dansoman, killing all those in the vehicle. We were told they were armed robbers. It turned out that they were women whose first (and only) contact with arms was with the guns which pumped bullets into their heads and bellies. They were petty traders who had risen up early and were heading to the market to earn their keep.

What shows that those who have been killed recently are all armed robbers?

Obviously, crime has worsened so much in the country and everyone wants to see the police take drastic action to deal with the menace. Many think that killing robbers and parading their bodies will serve as deterrence and halt (or minimise) the spate of armed robberies.

It won't. The police are feeding us with a false hope and, for me, it's terrifying that most Ghanaians seem to have bought into it. Some people don't even like it when human rights activists question the methods police seem to have adopted recently, which is to shoot and kill. They claim such questions will demoralise officers and, in the process, embolden the armed robbers.

Things don't work that way. If we question our president and political leaders, why can't we question our corporals and sergeants? Our police officers have in the past killed innocents and tagged them as armed robbers and so what is the guarantee that some trigger-happy officers will not pelt me with bullets one of these days and call me an armed robber. And I've never even held a pistol before?

We all want this robbery menace to end. I can't walk around my neighbourhood at night because I fear some idiots on a motorbike will attack and beat me up – just for my phone and wallet, which is often empty, by the way.

They did it to me once near the Aviation Social Centre in Accra. When they snatched my phone that evening I got so scared I felt some drips in my pants. Some machete-wielding bandits, most of them teenagers, tried to snatch my car in Osu. But for the auto-lock mechanism, they would have succeeded and who knows, they might have inflicted a few cutlass wounds on me in the process.

So like most other Ghanaians, I want police (and government) to deal with this menace decisively – but intelligently. Killing suspects and parading their bodies for all to see isn't good enough. It doesn't comfort me. Rather, the possibility that innocents could be killed fills me with the deepest dread.

Officers should be well-trained and provided with the necessary protective gear – like bulletproof vests and helmets. Instead of wasting our money on luxury cars for MPs, government should buy secure vehicles for the police. Their communication systems need to be modernised and expanded to make it easy for them to call for reinforcement if need be. With these, they are assured that the chances of a robber's bullet killing them are quite slim. And so their objective in case they come under a hail of fire will be to shoot to maim – not to kill. That's what modern policing. With this you get the bad guys. Innocents are not hurt and we can all sleep easy or step out to enjoy a good night out, knowing that our police officers will always deal with those dare to use the force of arms to gain property.

Credit: Ato Kwamena Dadzie (Atokd.com)

Ato Kwamina Dadzie
Ato Kwamina Dadzie, © 2009

The author has 146 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: AtoKwaminaDadzie

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