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‘Police are poorly trained’

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

MASERU — Corruption, theft and misconduct are on the increase amongst Lesotho’s police officers, according to study by a regional body.
The report by the African Police Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF) reveals that some police officers have gone to the extent of stealing exhibits recovered from suspects.
The APCOF was established by the Southern African Police Chief Cooperation Organisation (SARPCCO) in 1995 to promote cooperation among regional forces and make recommendations to governments of the member countries on how they can improve “training, policing strategies and policing performance”.
The Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) is a member of SARPCCO.
APCOF conducted the study in partnership with Lesotho’s transformation Resource Centre (TRC), a non-governmental organisation, in the second half of last year.
An abridged version of the report on the study was released this week, painting a gloomy picture on the state of the country’s law enforcement agency.
According to the report police officers interviewed during the study attributed the increase in cases of corruption to their meagre wages. The respondents said their salaries were so little that they could not afford the basic things.
A student constable earns M3 447 per month while a senior police officer gets an average M10 000.
The report notes that these salaries were not sufficient for many junior officials to purchase houses, vehicles, and medical insurance. The study said the LMPS has admitted that there were some corrupt officers among its ranks.
Several have already been dismissed for engaging in corrupt activities, according to the report which will be officially released this week.
Private transport operators told researchers for the study that police demand bribes from drivers who are caught violating traffic laws.
However the study found that there were no severe punishments given to corrupt officers.
As a result people’s trust in the police had been eroded.
There was no policy or guidelines regarding sanctions to be handed down to police officers found guilty of corruption, the report observed.
“The majority of respondents in the study, including current and former police officials, felt that police officers were not trustworthy,” the report noted.
One respondent, a former police officer, told the researchers that “Police officers are not trustworthy because the levels of corruption and abuse of police authority are alarming and there is nothing in place at the moment to address the problem”.
The report further said that police officers were not well trained. “There are no courses dealing specifically with how the police should handle diverse communities, children in conflict with the law, race groups, gender, nationals and non-nationals and different ethnic groups and attend to their specific need,” it added.
It said while cadets are trained on basic human rights this course was not adequate.
The report revealed that the country’s police college does not offer recruits training on weapons, both lethal and non-lethal.
LMPS, the study found, does not provide the officers with firearms. Most police officers carry their personal guns.
“The reviewers were alarmed that members carried their own side arms and that no training was provided on the handling or use of firearms.”
“The LMPS has stringent procedures with regards to issuing of firearms. As a result the majority of police officers who have firearms buy them and apply for a licence privately,” the report noted.
“The LMPS does not have a policy on the use of non-lethal weapons. Police officers are generally not issued with any weapon, either lethal or non-lethal.”
The study found that police officers were not even equipped with basic tools like handcuffs.
There was also a notable shortage of vehicles in the LMPS.
It said there was an unfair distribution of cars amongst police stations.
Some police stations do not have any vehicles at all, said the report. It noted that police buildings were in “bad shape”.
The report said the police force was short-staffed. Because of poor wages, the study found, some officers had resorted to moonlighting to augment their incomes. Section 28 0f the Police Service Act prohibits officers from doing private jobs without approval.
The act states that, ‘No police officer shall, without the consent of the Commissioner, engage in any employment or business whatsoever other than in accordance with his duties under this Act.’
Police regulations provide that it must be determined whether the business interest would be incompatible with the police service.
The Act provides that the commissioner of police may call upon any member of the police service to disclose his or her liabilities to show that they do not interfere with the performance of his or her duties, and a member may be instructed to pay their debts.
The APCOF study revealed that the LMPS has no registry of declarations made by police officers.
“Many police officers do engage in private businesses such as taxi operations, providing private security and retail shops.
“But as far as respondents were aware, no police officer has ever been charged for violating the law,” it added.
The interviewees said it would appear that either the LMPS turns a blind eye to the issue of police being involved in other employment or private business interest, or it lacks resources to institute action against them.
Police officers were also found to be misusing their power to intimidate and apply brutal punishment on suspects.
This had resulted in some murder cases being opened against police officers.
A former police officer pointed out that ‘in the main, police officers are susceptible to abuse of power because generally people fear the police”.
“The reason I am saying this is because when for example police confiscate someone’s property it gets lost because they do not have the storerooms to keep the property safe,” he told the assessors during the study.
“There were several recent court reports dealing with unauthorised or illegal removal or people’s property during searches or following confiscation by the police,” he said.
“The problem of police corruption, especially traffic police, police abuse of power and poor investigation of criminal cases were the main concerns expressed during the interviews which made people feel that the police were not trustworthy,” the report indicates.
The study recommends that police officers’ training on human rights be prolonged.
It advises that there should be advanced training courses that include human rights components and case studies should be used.
The report added that the issue of managing corruption and encouraging integrity within the police required the urgent attention of police
managers who must manage and oversee the work of their junior staff properly.
It further recommended that police officers should behave in a trustworthy manner and avoid any conduct that will “compromise integrity and thus undercut the public confidence in a police force/service.”
Police officers were encouraged to handle and treat people’s property with care.

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