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When cops become robbers

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KALINO—I was disgusted

Police officers, who are supposed to boost the safety and security of people and property, have, more than once, turned into violent law-breakers. TAONGA SABOLA writes.

Lilongwe-based businessman Aubrey Kalino was shocked one night when his security guard called to report that his business premises, Kalino Bar in the capital’s populous Biwi Township, had been broken into.

The law breakers were the law enforcers. A gang of police officers had forced their way into the place.

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Kalino quickly dressed up and rushed to the scene. The muggers had already vanished after vandalising fridges and a cash box.

Bottles of alcohol and some cash had been stolen.

Lucky enough for Kalino, his premises have a closed-circuit television (CCTV). He immediately went to check the footage and could not believe what he saw.

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“I was disgusted to see police officers breaking into the bar and scrambling for beer and cash,” Kalino says.

Augustine Kachelenga, who is a manager at Culture Club, also says police officers broke into their premises and stole beer and cash.

“You know, with the Covid regulations, we are supposed to close the bars are 8pm. After closing at 8pm, the police officers came to our premises after 10pm, chased the security guard, broke into the bar and stole beer and cash.

“When my colleagues went to report the matter to police, they were arrested,” Kachelenga says.

These are just a few examples of incidences of police officers, trusted with ensuring lives and property are safe, breaking the law.

In November last year, a police officer, Sergeant Raphael Sylvester, allegedly got a gun, on duty at Ipyana in Karonga District, and hired it out to two thugs who went to rob a filling station.

According to a confidential report to the Inspector General of Police compiled by Karonga Police Station’s Winnie Mbewe, the two suspects who went to rob the filling station, Patrick Gondwe and Donald Simbeye, were arrested and found in possession of the gun.

When the matter came out, Sylvester bolted.

On December 13 2014, another officer, Constable Kondwani Guta of Chilobwe Police Unit in Blantyre, was arrested for allegedly taking part in an armed robbery in Kanjedza Township.

As if this is not enough, in late 2019, police officers allegedly sexually assaulted some women in Lilongwe’s Mbwatalika, Mpingu and Msundwe areas.

Two weeks ago, a police officer mobilised people and hired a lorry which ferried them to vandalise a tent housing Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) officials in Mchinji to frustrate efforts by the tax body to crack down on smuggling of goods.

Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa rues the conduct of officers hooked in criminal activities.

“The revelation that some police officers are involved in criminal activities is not new. It is a continuation of a problem that started a long time ago. Instead of enforcing the law, some police officers connive with criminals and even give them guns to use in robberies.

“Unfortunately, this is tarnishing the image of the police and eroding away people’s trust in the police. The continued involvement of police officers in criminal activities is a sign that the Malawi Police Service leadership is not doing enough to identify and discipline such officers,” Kaiyatsa says.

Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) Chairperson Gift Trapence says the increase in criminal cases by some police officers should prod higher authorities to discipline them.

“The high command should be strict in making sure that officers adhere to professional standards. This should be applicable right from recruitment vetting to training.

“No one who breaks the law should be shielded. The police should be able to investigate each other and combat criminal activities or syndicates within the system,” Trapence says.

United Kingdom-based security expert and former police officer Wilson Khembo says every police officer is expected to abide by the five values of accountability—where every officer is answerable for their decisions, actions and omissions; fairness— where an officer treats every person fairly; honesty– where they are expected to be truthful and trustworthy; integrity– where they are always expected do the right thing and objectivity– where they must make choices on evidence and exercise their best professional judegment.

“All these values are embedded in every officer from the first day and every decision you make can be challenged by colleagues you are working with. Every officer is aware that their powers are given on trust and must always do the right thing even when no one is watching them,” Khembo says.

He goes on to state that there is a criminal culture in the policing system because police officers work in an environment where there are no values.

“No police officer is held accountable for anything. Integrity is not expected as they see their bosses accepting bribes and abusing suspects,” Khembo says.

He observes that since the law enforcers lack some of the values, they are prone to committing crimes such as rape, theft, extortion and even murder.

According to Khembo, this is because officers have hardly been held accountable in the past and they believe they will always get away with everything.

“Until we change the training, culture and recruitment processes of our police officers, what happened at Lower Biwi and Msundwe will continue happening.

“It’s important that our police recruit people with the right character and that the values I mentioned are part of the assessment during recruitment,” Khembo says.

He also believes that a re-evaluation of the professional standards directorate can address some of the problems.

“When I was a police officer, the department I feared the most was the directorate of professional standards. There are types of investigations that can be conducted by the professional standards directorate while more serious allegations are forwarded to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. In Malawi we have all these structures; unfortunately they only exist on paper,” Khembo says.

Livingstonia Synod’s Church and Society Programme Executive Director, Moses Mkandawire, says the quality and professional police system has been compromised through politicised recruitment and unfair promotions.

National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera asked for more time before he could respond on questions regarding some bad apples in the police service.

But speaking during a familiarisation tour of Eastern Region Police Headquarters in Zomba last year, Homeland Security Minister Richard Chimwendo Banda said Malawians expect the law enforcers to execute their duties with utmost professionalism

For Kalino, Kachelenga and others who have witnessed the ugly side of police officers’ actions, it is difficult to trust the men in uniform even when they go about their good duties.

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