“The police force, be a police force of the people; kwete kuita zviito zvatinonzwa zvekumirira vanhu mumugwagwa muchivabhadharisa. Hatidi kuzvinzwa izvozvo, hatidi kuzvinzwa izvozvo saka stop that evil,” President Mugabe.
THE importance of the police and the public understanding and appreciating each others’ concerns can never be over-emphasised. It is critical to foster that understanding and appreciation.
In Zimbabwe there is an urgent need to develop and maintain a satisfactory relationship between the police and the public for the facilitation of effective law enforcement.
That should translate to the development of a good public relations strategy by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).
The police need the public and the public need the police in any society. The police plays a role to protect and serve, and the public abide by the laws of the land. The ZRP represent the Zimbabwe public who they serve, and for them to discharge their duties effectively, they need the goodwill and cooperation of the citizens.
If this trust and cooperation is absent, then it becomes a coercive, counterproductive and confrontational relationship. That is never good for any country. The numbers of roadblocks in the country is just disproportionate and unsustainable.
The motorists’ outcries about the never ending hassle for non-existent traffic violations cannot be dismissed easily or wished away. This requires a redress and no amount of dismissal of the issues will change this fact. This is a national problem.
Both ZRP and the Zimbabwe public have obligations to effective maintenance of law and order. It is not farfetched to conclude that at present moment, most ZRP Officers view law enforcement as an end in itself rather than a means to an end.
The real end of policing is the maintenance of an orderly society that is fully backed by the citizens who abide by the law. Law enforcement is not about whipping citizens into line, it is not always about coercion and force, but rather mutually respectful relationships with the public. The attitudes of some of our ZRP officers leave a lot to be desired.
The relationship between the public, especially motorists, and the police is acrimonious. The forging of good relations and attitudes between police and citizens will yield better outcomes with much more in terms of accepting each other. The public and the police need each other for law and order to remain orderly.Advertisement
In Zimbabwe the divide between the ordinary people and ZRP is worrisome. The relationship between the two has in effect broken down. There is a breakdown of trust. There is little confidence in each other. The ordinary members of public in Zimbabwe are adamant that the police are only out to extract bribes from them rather law and order maintenance.
The disconnect has bred a near-irreversible air of resentment from the public towards the ZRP. It is a tragedy that the relationship between the two parties has been allowed to reach such levels of distrust and disconnect. Any relationship without trust is bound to fail.
It is a fact that the ZRP will not be able to successfully carry out their task of maintaining law and order without the confidence, the trust and the support of the people they are meant to serve. Attitude is key to policing. To effectively maintain law and order requires a right kind of attitude.
The majority of Zimbabweans feel that the police are arrogant bullies who abuse their authority and throw their weight about. They feel, whether right or wrong, that ZRP officers are discourteous and unfriendly.
I have been stopped a number of times at roadblocks and I came out feeling that police were not friendly and were out to catch me out more than anything. But that is just my own observation from my own experience. It is as if the main aim is to find fault and punish, rather than anything else. People should not be afraid of the police but rather should find solace in their presence rather than fear or resentment.
According to the majority of Zimbabweans, the police and corruption are inseparable. It is rare to hear of a motorist in Zimbabwe who has not had to pay a bribe to be able to get on their way. The general feeling among motorists in Zimbabwe is that the ZRP will always find something wrong with your vehicle and you will have to pay.
There are communication blocks between the ZRP and the Zimbabwe public. There is a general mistrust of the ZRP by the public and equally a mistrust of the citizens by the police. That is a gap that has to be addressed. The ZRP can potentially revisit their training to factor in more public relations skills.
The solution to this disconnect lies in improving and enhancing police training. Policing is not just about being able to complete the physical marathon. It is about achieving a mutually respectful relationship with the public to reduce the distrust that currently exists. There is no doubt that there is a need to bring the public and ZRP closer, to ensure effective law and order maintenance.
Policing is not about war with the public but rather protecting and serving. A step in the right direction would be having police more involved within the communities they serve.
There is nothing wrong with a police officer assisting members of the public with basics instead of only being associated with roadblocks and bribes. A police officer assisting an elderly member of the public to cross a road would go a long way in soldering good relations with the public.
The point is there is nothing wrong with the police doing kind deeds for the public they serve and protect. This is about confidence building and trust. The police are not just there to instil fear but to be respected.
When communication and trust deteriorate between the police and the public, then tensions inevitably build and undermine the shared goal of secured localities and safer communities.
This poor communication has been instrumental in the disconnect that exists between the ZRP and the public in general. Communication is not merely a case of a police officer haunting the public for bribes, but rather a process of engagement, of listening, reaching out and understanding what the other party is saying.
The generality of Zimbabweans are not anti-police in all earnest, but there is a lot of frustration in terms certain police actions that are perceived as too harsh or too rigid. The issue of roadblocks has played a key role in the impasse that prevail between the public and the ZRP. The dismissive attitude from the Police Commissioner with regards to public concerns about roadblocks was not helpful.
The maintenance of law and order is going to get harder if the police continue to distance and dismiss public concerns. It is an open secret that effective policing requires the trust, confidence and cooperation of the public. The perceived harassment of motorists by the police serves only to further alienate the public from the police.
This is not to suggest that motorists should not be stopped by the police, but the frequency and over-the-top approach by the police will only increase the divide. It is fact also that the police do a lot with very limited resources and they should be commended.
There is a bit of fine tuning that is required to rebuilt that relationship between the public and the police. The ZRP needs to go on a charm offensive to woo the Zimbabwe public into trusting and having confidence in them again.
This is a relationship that is not beyond repair, but there is a lot work that is required.