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Thursday, 26 July 2012

Poor Journalism (Daily Mail), 2nd Edition

Daily Mail's Chimwemwe Mwale has a rather poorly written article on the Police Public Complaints Authority (PPCA). It is certainly helpful in bringing to light that such an organisation exists, but woefully concludes :
The operations of the PPCA are testimony of government’s commitment to upholding the tenets of democracy and good governance as evidenced in its efforts to balance the judicial scale for both police officers and members of the public. It has also been seemingly a big relief to Zambians that the price of democracy paid in full has made it possible for the police to be policed!
Let us help Mr Mwale see the bigger picture so that next time he can do some proper articles! For those not in the know, the PPCA was established in 2003 with the power to investigate complaints from the public against the police as well as injuries or deaths in police custody. [Its website can be found here ] The PPCA submits its findings and recommendations to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), IGP and ACC. It is practically toothless as an oversight mechanism for providing checks and balances. It is in theory meant to act as deterrent to abuse of police power and violation of people's rights. But it does not have the powers to do any of that.

As an institution the PPCA has been a failure. Since its establishment the PPCA has received over 800 complaints, made just 50 rulings and helped dismiss only 13 officers for abuse of authority. Many people continue to lack information on their rights and where and how to seek redress against police brutality. As a result the PPCA has been totally inadequate in acting as a mechanism of keeping trust between people and the police. It has been ineffective in reducing police cruelty, torture and degrading treatment of suspects. In recent years for example, we have seen  unrestrained police violence with respect to university students, something that led to the then IGP to apologise. Indeed in commenting on the levels of police brutality and the debate on compensation, Charles Mulipi aptly noted that if all people abused by the police asked for compensation, our country would be bankrupt. Such is the level of police brutality.

The problem of course is the PPCA lack of powers to ensure that the police comply with their recommendations. On many occasions IGPs have refused to comply with the recommendations of the PPCA and the Authority has no power to enforce them. This weakness means that there's no systematic or effective framework for ensuring that police officers responsible will be brought to justice. This failure creates the perception in the minds of the public and police officers themselves that the police enjoy immunity from investigations that might lead to the punishment of misconduct. Providing more human rights training to police officers, raising the educational requirements for new officers or other reforms cannot make up for the lack of an impartial, systematic and effective investigation into the violation of human rights by police officers.

Something drastic is therefore needed. An Independent Police Complaints Authority (IPCA) should be established to ensure proper investigation of crimes and other violations by members of the Police Service. An independent authority would receive citizens’ complaints, investigate them and take criminal and/or disciplinary action against police officers found to have perpetrated violations. To be truly effective, such an authority should have full powers under law to deal effectively with complaints, including enabling powers to order the release of persons held unlawfully and powers to ensure immediate access to police dockets, statements and post mortem examination reports.

For more reading on policing reforms see the essay – Reforming Policing Service.

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