The Rwandan Police:The civilians who wannabe the Army

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By Kevin Gatete

Dear police,Police

Caligula once said of Romans: ‘Oderint dum metuant’they may hate me so long as they fear me.

The idea is not that we hate you, because you are there for us. We are the most precious thing that you have ever been called to protect; albeit partly (the army is doing most of the work). We do not want to fear you, we want to love you. you are all we got. We want to smile at you, to give you flowers, greet you and seek support from you.

So why are you letting us down?

The problem with being too efficient in fighting criminality is that you start regarding everyone as potential criminals; you loose trust in civilians, you become suspicious – and that is when you become dangerous!

The moment you wear that uniform, you leave your ego with you civilian clothing; you are on a job, and civilians are your bosses; not the other way round. The thing is, you will have to forego your usual 5 minutes of fame – you know when you scare people off and bring every activity to a stand still; when you close businesses and chase street vendors; You have to let that go, because there is no pride in any of it.

Your Vision is: ‘to make the people living in Rwanda feel safe, involved and reassured’.

and your Mission: ‘dedication to the delivery of high quality services, accountability and transparency, safeguard the rule of law and provide a safe and crime free environment for all.

You also say: ‘To achieve that mission requires a strong partnership with us, the people you serve.’

Here is my partnership to you:  what I saw last night is inconsistent with your mission and vision. It is inconsistent with your core value (3) Stability and social order, (4) Teamwork and partnership and (7) Community relation focus. I was in the middle of dancing salsa at Club Next, when I saw a police squad in full gear, entering the dance floor with frown faces, threatening to arrest the Disc Jokey, the owner and round up the music instruments, all to the dismay of dancers. They were so shocked, the best thing they could find was to tell the owner to surrender himself and do as he is told. Him, was half terrorized, half fed up. Here is a man who is trying to do business, he has all the city council-approved soundproof installations, he has salaries to pay, taxes to pay, probably loans to pay, and couldn’t believe these guys decided to raid his club on a Wednesday, the only day in the week where he makes the biggest kill!

What I found remarkable is the conversations that were going on among people present, with no one of them daring to tell the police what they thought of their draconian behaviour. I attempted to speak to them; they looked at me from head to tow, and said; go home kid; you don’t want problems… I wanted to tell them that that was not cool, but a friend who feared for me ‘saved’ me. Later as we drove home, he told me: ‘hey, you can thank me later for saving you from the police.’ Really? Is that what it has come down to? People can be saved from the police in this city? Where are we? Are we in Ferguson, Missouri in the US?

Before I was pulled away by my friend, I wanted to ask the ‘afande’ what would have happened if he had sent in one policeman dressed in civilian, who would walk up to the DJ, discreetly show him his card and say: ‘hey man, turn that down, your sound has gone beyond acceptable decibels’. Instead three of them came in, attracted full attention, created a scandal and humiliated the owner. Fine! You win, but guess what? The joke is on you…

The army doesn’t talk; their job is to protects the boarders, and actually go to war. Even they, have been doing a lot of community work and getting closer to us. that shows that they value us. they don’t want us to fear them, they want us to love them. If I ran a popularity poll, I am sure they would come among the most loved. You on the other hand, I am not so sure…

The title of your book, which I am about to read is: ‘Policing a Rapidly Transforming post Genocide society: Making Rwanda Feel Safe, Involved and Re assured’. You can say what you want, none of us there felt reassured or involved. Reassuring means advising the public to comply with the law, assist them in that endeavour. That will make you accessible, attractive and much more efficient. I understand you are a small force of around ten thousand people (10.000), and now you have to serve beyond Rwandan boarders. You are overstretched; but are you overwhelmed? Biriya babyita gukangata…

In case you didn’t know, you are there to ensure that all goes smoothly and according to the law. You are not there to arrest people, to close down businesses. That should be the last resort; not the first.

It is very common here that the prosecution puts someone in jail first and request for 30 days to go and look for incriminating evidence; It is very frequent that the police arrests suspects and parades them in front of media, allows the media to ask questions – like a jury, and subjects them to mob justice; in total violation of habeas corpus, due process, presumption of innocence, etc.

Those are the horrors of nightmarish police states that we were once before and that we never want to become; ever again!

You can do better than that: Ideally we can be on the same side, because you are there for me. Like teammates, you approach me, I give you information, make your work easy, when I am in fault, you help me get back on the right track; GENTLY! If you want to intimidate me however, let me tell you a secret: I DON’T FEAR YOU! I don’t even need to. Between you and I there is the law. I know my rights, I know them damn well!

I hope you do too, because the only thing you can do to me is arrest me for the night, maybe for the first thirty days as you look for evidence; but then I will come out…

I am a civilian. Civilians are going to remain civilians. With their imperfections, their mistakes, their disorder. But guess what? They are your bosses.  The reason you are police, is because unlike the army, you are supposed to be patient, flexible, understanding, but most importantly respectful.

Let me give you another image: there is a frigate and a super-tanker. A super-taker carries fuel and cargo, it is very heavy and turns very slowly; its captain doesn’t improvise, it is resistant to winds and currents, it almost never changes trajectories and it takes it a long time to adjusts its course. Now a frigate is swift and flexible. Its captain is there present; he improvises and makes judgement calls all the time.

In most circumstances, you are like the captain of a frigate, called upon to be judges and jury at the same time; that is when your training should kick in. Your training gives you the endurance and concentration of a super-tanker; and the flexibility of a frigate captain.

At the same time, your training makes you qualified to join the army. If you want to use brutal force, the police is probably not the place for you; the army is.

This is my city! I refuse to live in a city where I fear the police. Where we start asking ourselves: ‘what have we done? Have we created a monster that will devour us all? Because you are part of us; don’t make us think otherwise, and start calling you ‘part of them.’ If it gets to that point; you can go home; we won’t need you anymore…

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