When criminals recently resorted to killing police officers on duty, the response from the Malawi Police Service (MPS) was a stark reminder of the ‘shoot-to-kill days’. However, MPS says it has only advised its officers to be vigilant and act fast ahead of criminals.
Former president, Bingu wa Mutharika introduced a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy at a time widespread armed robberies threatened investors. However, the current Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said it had no intentions to reintroduce the policy.
A police officer who was part of a team that foiled an armed robbery in Limbe, Blantyre, where one suspect was gunned down on February 12 this year, said there is no ‘shoot-to-kill policy’, but officers are forced to act according to circumstances.
The officer said: “Our bosses instructed us to be vigilant and not to be victims in any operation we undertake. They warned us that we are living in a dangerous society where criminals have no mercy for police officers.
“They never told us to shoot-to-kill, but to disable suspects. They also warned us to be alert, so as not to end up being victims. We know what happens at crime scenes. It is chaotic and the situation is always between life and death.
“There are situations whereby an officer aiming at disabling a criminal may end up being killed by the criminals; that’s where it calls for fast thinking.”
The officer said the situation at crime scene is like “you let them take away your life or you choose to take theirs”.
He said from his experience, some officers that killed criminals might have acted out of anger, fear, poor training or indeed trying “to be vigilant and avoid being victims”.
Another officer also involved in operations where criminals exchanged fire with police blamed human rights activists that condemn police when a criminal is killed.
“Come to think of it, these are people trained to handle a gun, and to them, they do anything to execute their mission. They can kill people in their homes, banks and shops, and you seriously expect police offers facing such criminals to be soft-handed and use baton sticks?
“We have lost colleagues before and it is expected of you to protect lives of citizens and your life, so officers do what best suits the situation,” he said.
National Police Headquarters spokesperson Rhoda Manjolo confirmed in a response to a questionnaire that there is no policy of ‘shoot-to-kill’.
Manjolo said: “In any case, if robbers are using firearms, police officers are not supposed to use baton sticks. And where robbers aim at killing innocent civilians and police officers, police officers aim at protecting civilians by disabling the armed robbers.”
She assured citizens that MPS continues to provide security as it is mandated by the Constitution, urging the people to prioritise their security and work together as a nation.
The Malawi Law Society (MLS) recently condemned killings of suspected criminals by police, saying the so-called ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy is unlawful.
In a recent MLS press statement signed by the society’s secretary Khumbo Soko and president John Suzi Banda said the society had noted with concern that several people suspected of criminal activities have been shot dead by police officers.
The society further said instead of killing suspects, police should provide public safety and protect rights of all Malawians regardless of their status.
According to MLS, although use of lethal force by MPS is regulated by law, firearms should only be used to arrest anyone who attempts to evade lawful arrest or tries to escape from lawful custody.
On the other hand, Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) is on record as saying it is documenting incidences where criminals have been killed by police.
But in its 2014 human rights report, MHRC said most significant human rights issues in the country included excessive use of force by security officers, harsh and life-threatening prison and detention centre conditions and official corruption.
The report said police arbitrarily shot and killed bystanders in the course of pursuing suspects, citing the November 9 2014 incident in Lilongwe where a 16-year-old was shot and killed by police while they allegedly were attempting to scare away car hijackers.
The human rights body said initial reports suggested that the shooting of suspects is a result of police officers’ indiscipline and poor training.
The report said: “Perpetrators of past abuses were occasionally punished, but investigations often were delayed, abandoned, or remained inconclusive.
“For example, three officers charged with manslaughter in the 2012 death of Edson Msiska while in police custody and nine police officers arrested in connection with the 2011 deaths of anti-government demonstrators remained free on bail. As of November , no trial dates had been set for either of these cases.”
Most recent incidents in which police killed suspects include the shooting of three men in Blantyre on May 11 this year. According to police, the three suspects plotted a robbery in Mudi residential area.
A week before this incident, police also gunned down two men in Lilongwe on a similar assumption while on June 12 2015 police killed four criminals, who according to police, had plotted to rob Kanengo Filling Station in the same city.
Early last month, police in Blantyre gunned down a suspect connected to robbery of K46.4 million belonging to Petroda Limited. A police officer was shot dead as the robbers went away with money. One of the suspects at the incident was shot at and disarmed in Dedza a week later. On July 13 2015, police in Lilongwe shot one suspected robber and arrested two others following a tip-off that they were a gang of thieves.
The list of police officers killed on duty by robbers includes one who was killed on March 27 this year in Limbe. He was among a team of police officers trailing a gang that had plotted a robbery. Another police officer was killed on December 23 last year at First Merchant Bank (FMB) Livingstone Towers in Blantyre where about K100 million was stolen.
Meanwhile, Inspector General of Police Lexten Kachama has been on a nationwide tour banging heads with businesspersons, whom he has assured his officers are doing everything possible to secure life and property of everyone in the country. n