HOW do you Police the Police? This is a serious task facing Charles Babweteera, a detective superintendent of the Police Standards Unit (PSU), a unit formed two years ago to restore the publicâ€™s trust in the Police. The PSU was formed in July 2007 after
HOW do you Police the Police? This is a serious task facing Charles Babweteera, a detective superintendent of the Police Standards Unit (PSU), a unit formed two years ago to restore the publicâ€™s trust in the Police. The PSU was formed in July 2007 after allegations of corruption, mismanagement of cases, torture and defilement of victims were flowing in.Â
The unit has flown off to a busy start. Already, 37 The Police officers, with ranks ranging from constable to assistant superintendent are facing criminal court cases. Twenty two officers are currently facing Police disciplinary court, which disciplines officers who break the Police code. Officers being tried at the court face a wide range of punishments, depending on their offences. They include dismissal, demotion, fines, suspension and reprimand.Â The court has also referred many of the unitâ€™s cases outside of PSU to regional or the district Police commanders for redress.
According to Babweteera, not all complaints they receive are genuine. They sometimes waste time investigating complaints filed for other motives.
Â Â Â Â Â Â
If, for instance, you are beaten up in Wandegeya by a Policeman, you should report the crime to the officer in charge of Wandegeya Police station, an officer in charge of criminal investigations, a district Police commander, or call the PSUâ€™s toll-free lines 0800200019, 0800199199, or 0800199299.Â
An inquiry will then be opened by the PSU, which will look into the circumstances surrounding the complaint.Â If they find that the officer did beat you up or used excessive force in handling a case in Wandegeya, the unit commander or district Police commander will institute a unit disciplinary committee to try the offender. You need to testify against the officer, as would any other witnesses. And depending on the severity of the brutality, the officer would then face either a criminal court or Police disciplinary committee.
The unit tries to begin processing cases within three months of receiving complaints but the most pressing cases take priority. However, with just 51 officers policing the 37,000 policemen in Uganda, it is impossible for the unit to handle all the complaints very fast. The 51 have to the Police a force of over 37,000 officers, which is one individual for every 721 officers.
â€œThe unit was started to handle citizenâ€™s complaints, particularly of high-level the Police officers,â€ said Babweteera.Â â€œWhen organisations would survey corruption in Uganda, the Police were always in the first position.Â There was this feeling that to get Police services, you needed a bribe. We said this was wrong, and it had to change.â€Â
The unit also helps Policemen who feel violated by their own officers or the institution. Many officers have sought the protection of PSU to deal with grievances they have experienced while serving the force, such as non-payment of allowances, malicious deployment and vetting of SPCs.
The most common complaint against the Police is mismanagement of cases, with 1,055 people reporting this problem. This includes cases where an officer handling someoneâ€™s case neglects or omits the most important parts of the investigation, sometimes deliberately to frustrate the justice process.
Babweteera points to inadequate training of the Police, particularly in investigative skills as one possible cause. But he concedes that some officers mismanage cases for their own gain. Other junior officers lack supervision by higher officers, which would have helped them manage their cases more professionally.
For example, PSU received a complaint about a murder case that happened in eastern Uganda.Â The murder victim died under unclear circumstances and poisoning was suspected.Â However, the officer in charge of the case did not visit the crime scene, although the incident occurred only a few kilometres away from the Police station.Â The station did not do any post-mortem to ascertain the cause of death, and even after its exhumation was ordered, the officer disregarded the order. The suspect was eventually arrested but the way the officer handled the case showed a high level of incompetence. The complaint was filed with the PSU.
PSU has so far received 2,985 complaints and has processed 37.8% of the cases. A total of 1,855 cases are still under inquiry, due to a shortage in capacity at the unit, as well as the slow nature of the judiciary process. But Babwetera promises better performance. For instance, he says during the first week of May, PSU opened up three regional offices, to speed up the process of handling complaints. They are Arua, Jinja, and Masaka.
â€œWe hope that by the end of this year, we will cover all the regions,â€ said Babweteera.Â â€œItâ€™s expensive to travel from Mbarara to Kampala to lodge a complaint.â€
According to Babweteera, the unit is concerned that the Police misconduct cases are on the rise, which is the second most common complaint filed against the Police. These include anything from beating up civilians to using excessive force or shooting unnecessarily.Â
However, he says, there has been a decrease in complaints filed about corruption. Although it is still the third most common complaint. In 2008, 2,185 cases of corruption were received as opposed to 793 complaints in 2008.
Backlash and Impact
Despite the unitâ€™s backlog of pending cases, Babweteera feels there is a significant impact on how the Police officers conduct their cases, and interact with the public.Â Before the unit, he said, many officers felt free to be open about their corrupt behaviour, and were direct and open about taking bribes.Â
â€œWeâ€™ve taken 37 officers of all ranks to criminal courts for their corrupt tendencies, and 22 officers to the Police disciplinary courts,â€ said Babweteera.Â â€œOur impact has been felt.â€
Not everyone in the Police is enthusiastic about the unitâ€™s crackdown on the Police brutality, corruption, and mismanagement of cases. Some of the officers in PSU face physical threats for the investigations they are doing. â€œItâ€™s quite a sensitive job, because we are supposed to look into how our very own are conducting their businesses, and not all the Police officers are happy about what we do,â€ said Babweteera, â€œbut we keep going because of the support from the inspector general of the Police, as well as top administrators.
According to PSU, the poor working conditions and, sometimes, the hostile relationship that the Police has with the public are some of the causes of police corruption and brutality.Â A starting salary for a police constable is sh150,000, and though officers are given support in terms of housing, two families might share a room.Â
â€œMost officers are tempted into corruption because they see it as a way of supplementing their little resources, but we are not saying itâ€™s not acceptable,â€ said Babweteera.Â â€œYou need to bring out your plight in the right way.â€
Filing a complaint
Do one of the following:
Who polices the Police?