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Fighting fire with fire might backfire

PRIME Minister Tom Thabane has told parliament that the police will “fight fire with fire” in the battle against crime.
We have no doubt that the prime minister’s strong words are well-intentioned. What we doubt is whether he is talking to a sober police service. His words will surely be interpreted variously by police officers. There is a history here and it doesn’t look good at all.

Over the years there have been reports of the police using excessive force against suspects. Such reports include those of the police using force on unarmed suspects. There have also been reports of the police using torture as an interrogation technique. Sticks, sjamboks, tyre tubes, boots and plastic bags have been used on suspects.
The danger, therefore, is that Thabane’s call for “police to fight fire with fire” might be misinterpreted to be a permission to perpetuate bad policing methods that have already soiled the police’s reputation.

We are talking here about a police service that has been known to believe in the use of force.
We are talking here about a police service that seems committed to using torture to solve cases.
We are talking here about a trigger happy police sevice.
This is the same police that doesn’t care that it is being sued at every turn for its use of excessive force.
So when the prime minister says we should be fighting fire with fire he must be careful that this might actually be seen as condoning the same old culture that the police should banish.

The other problem is that his call might actually stoke the fires that are already raging. Criminals might prepare themselves for a forceful police service and the situation might turn out to be nastier than it is already. Remember police are required to operate within the law while the criminals are not. The battle against crime need not be a brutal one, although there are times when force may be necessary.
In most cases, though, the use of force is unnecessary.
The focus, we believe, should be on crime prevention.
To be effective, a crime prevention strategy should involve the community.
Clearly that strategy cannot work when villagers know that when the police come into their villages there will be blood.
The police must build cordial relations with the people if they want to win the battle against crime.
There is also need to enhance police visibility in crime hot-spots but this cannot happen when the police don’t have enough cars.
We understand that the prime minister is frustrated with the escalating level of crime in this country.
We also understand that he wants the police to be firm with criminals.
Yet we must appeal to him to be careful not to stoke the fires.

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