Can the Narrative of Policing in Liberia be changed?
The Liberian National Police has gone through some very difficult times over the years before and after the civil war. I wish to address policing in general in our Liberia. I would also address policing in the rest of Africa but first, let’s take care of our home. What about policing in Liberia? How do we change the narrative?
We cry out for justice – we call upon the police to help us solve crimes committed against us. We cry and call out for the police to come in and settle disputes. We expect the police to perform at their very best – however do we give them the wherewith all to perform their best.
There are some who blame the police officers – their lack of training – their lack of professionalism – there are so many issues that are being brought against the police. The taking of bribes – the sloppiness of their uniforms – their poor health – these are just some of the many issues that are directed against the police.
The question that begs to be answered is who then is responsible – who has the burden and whose head wears the proverbial crown. in the final analysis the Chief of Police bears the end of the stick – yet they continue to succumb to their superiors.
Is it possible to change the police narrative: – This is a big question but really not that difficult to handle? What are the policies that are to be addressed – – policies such as the use of force – the unlawful arrest search and seizures, to name just two? There are many, believe me. The question, can they be addressed in our society.
Many years ago, the late Edwin Luzon Harmon tried it and he was dismissed from the Police force. His efforts even followed him into the private sector with the plant security where he was again taken from his job there due to political pressure upon the companies. He was a man of the most professional character you could find. It was such a man that was my idol – my mentor – and also a mentor to many others in the police at that time and even before my time.
Director Harmon was so proud of his uniform that when you saw him walking in the streets with his uniform on you just stood and admired the man – his keen sense of duty and responsibility was his trademark. He stood in front of his men, not behind them and accepted responsibility for their actions and inactions. He was not too big to accept responsibility. He demanded the best from the members of his department, and so he protected those he commanded from political fall outs. When he spoke, people listened!
Is it possible to change the narrative of the police in Liberia: – I read a book not so long ago which was speaking about people and nation building? It was a view that I have shared many times in my own professional career advancement. One can change the constitution as many times as is needed – but to carry out any constitutions will depend upon the characters and integrity of those that govern the nation and those heading the various organs of the government. What do I mean by this?
While serving as the Deputy Director of Police for CID Affairs, Liberian National Police, I can remember one day receiving a subpoena from the court at the Temple of Justice. My Administrative Assistant brought it to me and said Chief we do not bother with these subpoenas. I stopped him (I had just come into the CID at the time) and I said what do you mean. He stated that when some of the former bosses received these, they just put it down. I said, no not under my watch.
The courts of laws are to protect the citizens and one day you may benefit from what we are about to do. I gathered up my Chief of Operations at that time Sam Massaquoi and told him to get the case files and the agents involved in the matter before the court and let us all go to the court. I said we must respect the courts of law. My father being a lawyer a judge and also country attorney at one time instilled in me the respect for the rule of law.
We got to the court and went up to the judge’s chambers who had sent for me. The court officers were a bit concerned when they saw us coming to him at the judge’s chambers and he got up looked very afraid and I said the judge sent for me and my officers involved in such a such case. He was afraid and he went in and the judge opened the door looking rather concerned. I said Your honor you sent for me here is the subpoena etc. He looked me in the face and smiled and asked me my name and when I told him he asked if I was the son of former country attorney Charles T. O. King, I said yes sir. He smiled and said he did not expect nothing less. He said further that this was the first time a CID Director had ever responded to his subpoena with making a big issue about it. I said to him, sir, no one not even a Deputy Director of Police is above the law and we just obey the courts when sent for. He had the greatest respect for us from that day and any time a case was brought before him where the CID was involved, he told the people to make sure that they had their cases together because the CID was nothing to play with again. That our cases he had sent me for was all legal in keeping with the law.
What I am trying to explain here is that when one has been appointed to lead any division of the police department, it is incumbent upon the head to lead by example and train his officers in keeping with the law of the land. respect for the constitutional rights of the people at all times and upon all occasions. Public relations start within your department not outside. I used to have weekly meetings for my officers, and we use to invite lawyers with integrity to speak to us about the rule of law and its importance. That meeting was to become known as “Coffee Break with the Director of CID Affairs” every Saturday morning. It was there that we all spoke in a relaxed gathering about our various cases and the means we were to operate within the laws. We invited nudges, lawyers and others who could educate us with their wisdom and knowledge of the law. In fact, before his death, the late Lemmual Reeves the Immigration head stated that it was a result of those meetings that he decided to study law at the University of Liberia. That is what I call helping those who come to you for guidance is given the encouragement to go higher and advance themselves professionally.
Is it possible to change the police narrative: – the International Association of Chiefs of Police sets policy for the police profession around the world? How can we be a member of that organization and yet stand for mediocrity within the departments which we head – and in the nation we serve. How can we continue to attend their programs around the world – sit and listen to what is going on – see the advancement of policing in countries around the world – then return home and then settle back to the same standard as when we left it?
Is it possible to change the police narrative: – When we swear in a new police chief, what is the code of ethics that they recite? What is the oath that they take? I wonder. There is a law enforcement code of ethics that every officer, which includes the police chief should recite upon taking office. They should read it and sign it and that should be kept as part of their commission. That code is the same c ode which every officer should take.
Is it possible to change the narrative of the police narrative: – The Police Chief is the head of the police department? He is responsible for the safety of the officers – the safety of the people within the length and breadth of the Republic of Liberia. No one else has that immediate responsibility. It is therefore their responsibility to develop policies, and practices to implement those tasks. When the police chief receives orders to “. Move or be removed”, they have to do so with one eye on the rule of law and basic human rights and the other eye on their oath of office. The code of ethics is to be their guide at all times and upon all occasions. This is where their professional learning – skills and knowledge of sociology, psychology, management, laws and social sciences comes into play.
This is why, a police chief, if they swear to comply with the code of ethics when they take their oath, they will be held to that standard instead of the standard set by the persons who swears them in. Every chief of police is accountable to the people of the nation – While it is true that the police chief serves at the will and pleasure of the head of state, that does not mean that they are to violate the laws of the land.
It is the Head of the police who did the police training, it is them who took tactical training – it is them who walk the beat – no one else can take over that responsibility. I can remember when I came to the united states for my professional training and was introduced to the local police chiefs in the state where I studied, the first questions I was asked before I was introduced to the rest of the detective and patrol officers – “..Mr. King, did you attend the police academy in Liberia”. Once I said yes, the entire department was opened up for me. The president and the Minister of Justice are not police officers.
They never took police training. Only the chief of police is tasked with that authority. The chief of police has the final say as to how he will be held responsible because at the end of the day, the courts will call the chief of police to answer for the actions or inactions of their officers. Not the president and not the minister of justice. The police chief is the chief law enforcement officer in the nation. Anyone else is just ceremonial. Do you ever see the minister of justice or the president directing traffic at the front lines?
Police work is not for everyone who says they studied criminal justice. It calls for a special person – a person who dares to take his department to the next level – who exemplifies professionalism – who aspires for the best of and from their officers. Such men like my mentors Commandant Peter Y. Wilson , Inspector James Forkpa, Saama N. Smith and there are many more to be introduced during the next post if allows.
“A Policeman’s Lot is Not a Happy One” Pirates of Penzance
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