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Published On  Oct 16,  2011
   
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New Reality Requires Reimagining Crime Prevention Strategies

 

Police officers have no duty other than to enforce the laws set by the policies of the government in power. During the imperial era, the police used to protect the landlords and labored hard to foil any rebellion, plot, or movement that threatened the sanctity of the imperial throne.

Even then, the era was regarded as a “golden time” for the police profession. Officers were privileged to study border policing and engage in para-military training at police academies in the United States, and other western countries, including Israel. The public had high respect for the police; emergencies were referred to Aba Dinas (graduates of the police college). Police training centers at Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Deqe Mehari, now in Eritrea, and other places were well organized and staffed by competent trainers.

 The professionalism exhibited by the emergency police forces and riot control units in controlling riots and rebellion with minimum causalities and discipline is worthy of mention. They are remembered for their sacrifices in controlling national borders under harsh weather conditions, sometimes without basic supplies and housing.

After the military junta took power, policing faced the biggest challenge to its very existence as an institution. The notorious Revolutionary Guard informally took over authority of the police and put itself above the law through mass arrests and the killing of citizens. It was more than difficult for the police to investigate crime reports.

Unfortunately, some police officers were used as sub-city investigators for political crimes committed in the underground sparing between the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and the military government.

Various authorities and associations such as local administrations, and peasant and city dwellers associations with unchecked powers to detain citizens, made it hard for the police to manage detention centers properly. Sometimes it was easier said than done to ascertain when and by whom an alleged offender had been detained.

Nonetheless, the police at that time sacrificed their lives for the territorial integrity of the country; fighting back the Somalia aggression and leading the militia brigades. After the fall of the military regime, the police forces were reorganized yet again. The police organizing commission, commissioned by the transitional government of Ethiopia and comprised of senior police officers, took the responsibility of re-organizing the police according to the new governmental structure. The force was comprised of former EPRDF fighters, former police officers that had passed public screening and the commission’s examination of personal files and interviews, and new recruits. 

The work performed by the police organizing commission laid the foundation for the current federal police and regional police departments. While establishing the newly structured police force, extensive public evaluations were conducted at the woreda level and internally within departments. The evaluation was aimed at combating corruption and undisciplined behavior. The negative side was that some groups and individuals used it to advance their self-interests and even to pester innocent policemen.

However, seeking public support and participation in controlling crimes is considered a shift in the police’s operational tactics resulting from the series of evaluations. So too is the beginning of thinking strategically.

Afterwards, the 2001 riots in Addis Ababa and the 2007 opposition-led riots were huge challenges for the police forces. Those events forced police authorities to rethink strategies and the structuring of the police. The intrusion of the Eritrean regime, and other armed groups, the attempted murder of former Egyptian president Hussein Mubarak and other terrorist attacks were also tough times for the police.

Similarly, the expansion of information and telecommunications technology (ICT) and transport networks have allowed criminals to coordinate their crime schemes and avoid police investigations. Increased trade, economic growth and foreign direct investment have also increased the movement of people. Traditional values are fading away and new types of crimes with new tactics are emerging. Criminogenic factors like unemployment, poverty and other environmental factors are fueling the crime problem.

Recently, the police have engaged in community policing strategies with new vigor. The practice of community policing has even been established in rural areas.

However, marketing policing through television and radio programs alone is not enough. Human relations are vital in police work. It is through individual encounters that the public judges the police, so patrolmen and women have to be prudent in establishing rapport with the public.

It is obvious that different communities call for different policing strategies because they differ in culture, tradition and values. A showcase could be the business community that has varying needs among its sectors. Serving the business community, for instance, requires catering to its various security needs.

Inter-agency cooperation is one way in which the police can serve the range of demands, whilst having a common institutional vision. Working with the chambers of commerce, housing development projects committees, professional associations and investors can help the police meet the specific demands.                  

Apparently, crime prevention requires good local knowledge; including knowledge of security gadgets and equipment such as door locks. For instance, door locks of condominium houses are repeatedly crushed by burglars. The police should consult building project offices and owners about features of the doors and locks. Similarly, the police need to be present in the design of high-rise buildings in order to be furnished with escape routes, fire drills and evacuation plans in case of emergencies. Corporate executives should constantly be reminded that they have a duty to care for their employees by consulting the police. Putting guards with rifles at entrances will do little unless adequate procedures of crime reporting and prevention are in place.

Another responsibility of the police as a result of ever-changing realities is to maintain the safety of road users. Traffic control is an urgent task that needs to be addressed. Crossing the main squares of Addis Ababa at rush hours is increasingly difficult for pedestrians. Street vendors, shoe shiners, and beggars with infants sleeping in public places complicates the situation.

An empowered police force establishes the core of public security in a rapidly urbanizing city such as Addis Ababa. This calls for police stations to be empowered with a capacity to manage the complete crime management cycle, but it cannot be accomplished by the police alone. It needs the insistent support of the community.  

As the conventional police manual puts it “crime prevention is a joint effort.” Yet, designing strategies tailored to the new national reality is required from the police. It is only then that stakeholder participation can be strengthened to maintain peace and ensure development.

 

BY YOHANNES ABEBE
Yohannes Abebe is an ex-police officer. He now works at the Commercial bank of Ethiopia (CBE). He can be reached through yohannesabebe10@yahoo.com. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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