Has the police force truly reformed?

IT is 1.40pm in the afternoon in Harare.

At the intersection of Kenneth Kaunda St and Julius Nyerere Ave, the traffic lights are not working. Any other day, such a scenario in Harare would normally lead to congestion and chaos.

However, traffic and pedestrians are moving swiftly and smoothly thanks to traffic police officers controlling traffic. Clad in an orange reflective jacket and matching trousers, a pair of white gloves, blowing a whistle and energetically doing the work of a robot is a policewoman.

A few meters away, her colleagues, three of them clad in the same gear, chitchat whilst constantly looking in her direction, in case she needs a break. She, however, continues with the same energy, undeterred by the scotching sun. Passersby seem not to mind, however, a few that do, pass a comment here and there.

“Inga zvinhu zvinotochinja nhai? (things have really changed),” one man says as he passes by.

For the first time in many years, the police force, especially those in the traffic section, their Worker’s Day will be a different one this year. One that is bound to have a minimal number of roadblocks in urban and inter-city highways.

It is an indisputable fact that the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) especially the traffic force had gained a notorious reputation over the years. Areas of contestation included numerous roadblocks which came with controversial tools of the trade such as spikes (used to deflate motor vehicle tyres) and truncheons which were used to smash windscreens of “defiant” motorists.

Citizens and tourists complained against the conduct of members of the police force. They were accused of being rude, corrupt, petty and harassing members of the public all in the name of policing. And on November 16 2017, when Operation Restore Legacy was launched, the police turned on a new leaf.

ZRP National Traffic Branch immediately came up with an 11-point commitment plan to improve relations with members of the public. Setting up of traffic officers controlling traffic at most intersections is one of the ways that has been instituted to restore relations with members of the public. Other means include shunning practices such as withholding motorists’ driver’s licences without the written consent of the owner, detaining motorists at roadblocks unnecessarily and inconveniencing law-abiding motorists, among others.

The set of rules have been welcomed by motorists and pedestrians. As the police celebrate Workers Day together with other workers across the globe, the question remains; are these measures enough to undo all the bad publicity? Human resources expert, Mr Memory Nguwi says, although, it might take time for police to rebuild its image, it takes simple steps.

“The first port of call is following the police client service charter. It must be followed rigorously,” he said.

“It is also important for police to stop interfering in ordinary people’s lives. There is no need for police to be everywhere for citizens to know the police has authority.

“We all know they are the police and they have the power and mandate to protect and serve the community, thus there is no need for them to be everywhere. Zimbabwe police should also move with the times. It is time they embrace new technology. For instance, if they were to install cameras in some streets, there would be no need for them to remain out there.

“In some countries, you can drive for hours without encountering police, it does not however mean they will not be monitoring the streets. It is also important for police to integrate with the society. They used to do that long back, when they would have periodical meetings with communities. Such meeting resulted in respect and trust from the community.”

Is the real ZRP back or we still have to wait a little longer?

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