Last week, Inspector General of Police John Martins Okoth-Ochola reshuffled at least 15 senior traffic officers in the Kampala Metropolitan Area in a stern response to complaints of extortion and grand corruption brought against some of them.
The affected officers, according to people with direct knowledge of the scandal, were accused by boda boda riders of running an extortionist ring under the guise of instilling some order among the cyclists.
The reshuffle, a quick response to escalating tensions between the officers and boda boda riders, was a strong sign of the lengths to which the IGP is willing to go to fight corruption.
Many of the accused officers were transferred to far-flung districts in the countryside away from the ‘lucrative’ capital city and the central Wakiso district.
It’s commendable that some of the implicated officers have been placed under investigation for suspected graft.
Months into office, this new police administration is demonstrating a welcome resolve to break with the past and rebuild the force’s image sullied by years of corruption and brutality.
Many changes have been made and the force appears to be on a determined march towards becoming its old professional self again.
But the turnaround will not be complete without a change in mindsets from bottom up. Lower-ranking officers must be persuaded to explore their entrepreneurial ability to supplement their poor salary instead of taking the easier route of corruption.
Almost every noble police operation has drawn public complaints of abusive policing; from drink driving crackdowns to boda boda purges, to mention but a few. Victim after victim has complained about a pattern of extortionist tendencies by some policemen.
In some instances, police officials have been accused of deliberately ignoring laid down policing guidelines. Suspected drunk drivers are locked up without their alcohol levels being tested to establish their culpability.
Almost as suddenly, drivers penalized under the express penalty scheme, are not allowed the 28 mandatory days in which to pay up as the guidelines stipulate.
Now, police officers demand on-the-spot payment at the nearest bank. All these measures are largely tailored to coerce victims into looking at bribery as an easier option.
To fight corruption, the police administration needs to be more pro-active. It’s not enough to transfer the 15 errant officers from Kampala. They must be monitored wherever they are because they can easily revert to their old ways.
To encourage policemen and women to denounce corruption the new leadership should work to improve their welfare, salaries and training. Nonetheless, so far so good.