Security experts have warned that delay to redeploy police officers in areas where they withdrew from following attacks and damage to police units by angry protesters is a recipe for more disaster.
But while agreeing with the experts on the repercussions of pulling out personnel from some areas, acting Inspector General of Police, Duncan Mwapasa, stressed Police will only redeploy officers to the areas after communities have guaranteed safety and security for the law enforcers.
Mwapasa observed that with the absence of police officers, criminal activities are likely to thrive in the areas thereby subjecting innocent people to a lot of danger.
Said Mwapasa: “But the safety and security of our officers is of utmost concern. To that effect, we will also work on ensuring that we employ all the necessary tools possible for the police officers to be accepted in an area.”
In most areas where angry people targeted police units or checkpoints during riots, the communities are now devising their own survival systems.
Experts say this is alienating government. Just a week ago, Police Mobile Service (PMS) Superintendent Usumani Imedi was brutally killed by an irate mob at Msundwe on the outskirts of Lilongwe.
Msundwe Police Unit is one of police stations in Lilongwe where officers were pulled out after the office was torched in June this year over disputed presidential elections.
A snap check by Weekend Nation shows that in the Northern Region police have abandoned at least three police units.
These are Chibavi and Chiputula in Mzuzu both of which were torched during anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations. On the other hand, Hewe in Rumphi was damaged during a protest against the arrest of people suspected of practicing witchcraft.
In the Central Region, three units are not operational namely, Chitedze, Mpingu and Msundwe. They were also destroyed during anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations.
In the Southern Region, two police units which include Makhuwila in Chikhwawa District and Chitera in Chiradzulu have been unmanned since 2016 after the office was destroyed by an angry mob that stormed the offices to kill a murder suspect who was kept there.
Former police commissioner Alex Chisiano, in an interview, observed that the withdrawal of law enforcers from trouble spots has eroded gains the police made over the years on police being accessible to the public.
“The demonstrations have now made the full picture come to bear. As a result, the communities are now devising a certain system of keeping law and order by themselves. This has further eroded people’s trust in the police as they are also not accessible,” said Chisiano.
But what is most worrying, said Chisiano, who is also a partner at Private Investigations Consultancy (Pics), is that the police do not interpret the trend as something they should stop.
The former commissioner insists that police departments, such as ethics and standards, ought to have quickly assessed the situation and properly managed its negative repercussions to regain public trust.
“The other problem we have now is that instead of serving the public, the police get annoyed and disappointed with citizen protests and abandon their duty posts, thinking they are punishing the citizens; but they are not,” explained Chisiano.
Another expert, lecturer in the Department of Governance, Peace and Security Studies at Mzuzu University Eugenio Njoloma explained that crime is likely to be higher where police presence is minimal after police have abandoned their duty posts.
The police, according to Njoloma, have to make huge investments in community policing to improve relations with the locals.
Said Njoloma: “The involvement of the local population through community policing is important in providing a huge policing stake to the locals. This can, in principle, help them cultivate realistic impressions of the ownership of security management.”
But Mwapasa defended his office, arguing that the police are equally concerned with the status quo, adding that what is needed is to further sensitise the public on evils of mob justice.