Do we have enough police in Uganda to manage our security needs? This is an important question because do we know how much we spend a year to pay for the police services that we have. Should we spend more?
It is well accepted that a combination of factors other than police strength can accurately predict crime trends. The correlations between these factors and crime are well known to criminologists.
They include education levels, employment levels, income levels, school-leaving rates, the number of families that regularly need crisis assistance, and the heterogeneity of a relevant population. None of these factors is under the influence of police numbers, or indeed police powers.
Crime has been a major concern of the public for many years. In part, this is because the criminal-justice system has had difficulty dealing with an ever-increasing crime rate.
Traditionally, our criminal-justice system has been “reactionary.’’ In other words, it attempts to deal with the situation after it occurs.
The time has come to take a “proactive’’ approach to fighting crime. This can be accomplished through the anticipation, recognition and appraisal of a crime risk, and the initiation of some type of action to reduce that risk.
The main goal is to establish a Crime Prevention Resource Centre, which could be used by local police to educate police personnel and citizens in the various methods and techniques of crime prevention and crime risk management.
To be effective, crime prevention must be handled on a local level.
One of the basic ingredients of crime prevention is citizen self-help and community involvement. Citizens must be aware that they have an important role to play in controlling crime. Crime is not solely a police problem but the responsibility of all citizens.
For crime prevention to be successful, time must be taken to document the effects of various programs. It is extremely important to document the number of lectures given, number of people in attendance, residential and commercial security surveys and other activities.
Statistical analysis should also be done to show the risk rate of burglary in those homes and businesses that have employed crime prevention measures, compared to those that have not. The overall burglary and theft rate should also be analyzed. The same approach should be taken with other crimes.
In addition, a monthly activity report should be prepared for the local OC of police so that he will know the effect that crime prevention is having in his community. An annual report is also important.
The relationship between law enforcement and video technology is poised to grow, especially in city and commercial towns. If those cameras were that good, they would aim to link to “smart” software that identifies a potentially suspicious situation, such as an abandoned package or a car that circles repeatedly.
There is a possibility that the cameras might simply be pushing criminals to other areas as they try to avoid detection. Their contribution to reduction in crime is difficult to establish because other factors might be at work, including changes in police strategies.
In my view, the threat of punishment, no matter how severe, will not deter anyone who believes they can get away with it. It will also not deter those who are too overcome by emotion or disordered thinking to care about the consequences of their behaviour.
Punishment also has to be immediate. Delayed punishment provides opportunities for other behaviours to be reinforced. In reality, it often takes months – if not years – for someone to be apprehended, appear in court and be sentenced.
Many police officers remain strangers and adversaries to residents rather than partners in keeping communities safe. Officers are highly suspicious of strangers, hypervigilant of danger, fixated on sorting the good people from bad and uninterested in the long-term harms to individuals and communities that result from their law enforcement efforts. Police and government leaders wrongly view the current law enforcement practices as a natural way of policing rather than a socially constructed game that can be changed.
I believe the current crisis in Ugandan policing requires dismantling the old law enforcement game and starting anew. I agree that the vast majority of police officers want to do the right things.
But what constitutes the “right thing” is contingent on the game being played. Changing the goal of modern policing to creating strong communities creates a new game. It is the logic of this new game, rather than the moral reasoning of individual officers, that will lead to the cultural shifts in policing of the magnitude imagined by today’s police reformers – including those protesting on the streets.
Richard Musaazi is a private investigator