Three peace and security analysts have expressed divergent views about the decision of the Ghana Police Service to arm officers of the Motor Traffic and Transport Department (MTTD) on routine snap checks on the country’s roads.
While they agree that the country’s police officers need training and logistics that offer them protection against daring criminals, who are sometimes a threat to police officers, there was disagreement over whether arming the officers was the right approach.
While a Ghanaian lecturer in criminology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, Dr Justice Tankebe, gave a grim view of the decision, saying the situation would result in creating officers who would act on impulse, the Chairman of the National Peace Council, Reverend Professor Emmanuel Asante, who spoke in a personal capacity, said there was nothing wrong with arming the MTTD officers.
The Executive Director of the Centre for Human Security and Peace Building, Mr Adib Sani, who also supports arming the MTTD officers, said that would reduce the vulnerability of some of the officers who operated in highly dangerous routes where criminals operated.
Advancing his arguments, Dr Tankebe said the decision was dangerous, insisting that it would lead to poorly trained police officers, with unaddressed emotional and psychological difficulties, unleashed with arms upon the public they were supposed to protect.
“I am opposed to arming traffic officers not because I don’t recognise the danger some of them face; I’m opposed to arming them under the current institutional shortcomings because doing so will only further endanger their safety.
“It would mean poor treatment of civilians and increased risks of violence against those civilians. That can only undermine police legitimacy and place officers at further risk of being beaten or attacked,” Dr Tankebe told the Daily Graphic.
The lecturer, who is also the Executive Director of the African Institute for Crime, Policy and Governance Research, added that: “The physical safety of officers can never come from their guns. It comes from their reputation as people of integrity and, therefore, as legitimate power holders”.
He said the police should not allow the anger from the tragedy to dictate their reactions.
“What is needed is urgent training of officers to recognise and avoid danger, and to have resources nearby should danger arise,” he said.
Following the killing of two police officers last week at Buduburam in the Central Region, the Minister for the Interior, Mr Ambrose Dery, announced that MTTD officers would begin to carry arms.
The decision has been met with mixed reactions, with some members of the public describing it as an overreaction.
Dr Tankebe observed that the decision reflected a failure or an unwillingness to confront and address the underlying challenges facing the police.
A long-time advocate of police reforms, Dr Tankebe, said: “We have been presented with many opportunities to ask what broader reforms are required and to invest in such reforms.
“The soul of police work is their legitimacy; that is, public recognition of the authority of the police as morally valid. This legitimacy does not rest on their constitutional powers alone, but, more critically, on how they conduct themselves. Violence against police officers reflects the legitimacy status of the police, and that should be our starting point,” he stressed.
But Mr Sani, who supports arming the MTTD officers, said depending on the areas, the police should be armed with sidearms, preferably nine-millimetre pistols and in more volatile areas, semi-automatic weapons.
It is a good call, but with a caveat. They should be trained. In-service training is extremely critical. Many of these officers after passing out have never held guns again.
“We need to train them to sharpen their skills so they don’t just know how to use the guns safely but also to be tactically disciplined so that they don’t over-exaggerate threats,” Mr Sani added.
He explained that if an officer was not well trained, he would over-exaggerate the threat and fire at the least provocation.
Unlike the United States of America where traffic police are fully armed, in countries such as the United Kingdom, Iceland, New Zealand, Ireland and Norway, traffic police carry batons, pepper sprays and handcuffs instead. Where guns are carried, they are concealed in patrol cars.
However, Rev. Prof. Asante said AK 47 was not the only weapon that the police could carry as in other jurisdictions they had shotguns and sidearms (pistols) that were holstered in their belts.
He was also quick to add that training was very important to ensure that the guns were used responsibly.
“They have to be trained. If you don’t train them, it will be dangerous,” he said.
Rev. Prof. Asante said what the police needed was a training that offered a mind-shift from the colonial policing which sought to suppress people to a modern policing which made the police more friendly to the public but at the same time fearful.
“In other jurisdictions, the police order suspects out of vehicles in a professional way; they don’t pull you out,” he said.
Rev. Prof. Asante said the police also needed modern information systems that made it easier for them to communicate to deal with those who break the law.