Rwanda National Police has come out with a unique community-friendly programme for redressing grievances and restoring law and order among people in the rural and urban areas of the country.
Entitled the ‘Community Policing’ Committees, the programme envisages each police station to work closely with sector leaders in addressing people’s daily challenges.
This is the kind of approach the people enjoy - solving their own problems. The police are to facilitate and enforce the law in an environment that does not affect the people and itself.
According to Superintendent Bosco Rutishisha Community policing is the partnership of the police with the people to combat and prevent crime.
“Community policing champions citizen empowerment. It attempts to do away with notions that the police are a punitive force, and that citizens have little say in the policing of their communities. It seeks to foster positive police-community relations, empower citizens, show deference to citizens, and reduce crimes,” he said.
The National Police hence need a much more responsive and people-friendly police system that understands the sensitivities of the citizens. Fortunately this is an idea Police Commanders share with many citizens.
“There is a need for police to be people-friendly. The people must have a sense of confidence in the police. We are a police system which is much more responsive to the sensitivities of the common man, so that citizens do not fear to approach us,” said Gilbert Gumira, Regional Police Commander Eastern Province.
It is a new development that is helping to change the attitude and the people’s general perception of the police as a punitive and authoritarian institution.
Moving towards a pro-people police force
There are a number of reasons that were responsible for the development of a disciplined police force in Rwanda. Today’s Rwanda Police Force, is people friendly mainly because of the training and stern disciplinary actions taken against errant police officers.
Emmanuel Gasana the Commissioner General of Police, a few days after assuming office as the Police boss, said that he wants to be limited by the sky in creating a people friendly police.
“I hope to turn the police force into a people friendly, professional, prestigious police service. This is our vision from now on,” he said.
This is what makes great difference from the former Gendarmerie that doubled as the army and the police. When the National Police was formed 10 years ago, people had in mind what Gendarmerie was doing. So they never expected any difference.
“Deep-rooted corruption and public mistrust of the Gendarmerie in Rwanda played a large role in allowing for the devastating events that unfolded in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi,” said James Habiyakare a resident of Nyarubuye village in Kirehe district.
It is however, true that through constant training, the Police have improved its coordination, intelligence gathering, sharing and dissemination. This is a situation that allows it to operate with few errors and maximum efficiency, while handling societal issues.
“We provide better training and equipment to law enforcement officials; and work with and, where necessary, accept training and assistance from external law enforcement agencies with a more sophisticated approach,” the police officer said.
This too contradicts the Gendarmerie approach of brutality that was so rampant in the country, to the extent that the sight of a police uniform was enough to scare an ordinary person.
In such circumstances, information, independent of its nature, had to be forced out of the ordinary people. Yet, information obtained under the threat of violence is tainted and cannot be acted upon. Unfortunately the order of the day, in the then Rwanda dictated thus.
The public mistrust in the Gendarmerie was not the result of an overnight incident. It was the crystallization of years of experience under despotic regimes. If the government had not initiated drastic changes in policing, the mistrust would have increased.
Every incident of police failure brought to the people’s attention further isolated the police from the people. It is common knowledge that a law enforcement institution which lacks the trust of the people cannot maintain law and order.
And, to compound the tragedy, an officer who serves in such a police force fundamentally suffers from demoralization.
Records have it that each day brought horrendous stories of police and army extortion, torture, and killing of the people that they are supposed to protect, and how the criminals killed and maimed Rwandans in the watchful eyes of the police.
Rwandans were living in a state of hopelessness, where the police couldn’t police and no wonder, the genocide was fast and easy-state inspired.
Rwandans, with such a background have all the reasons, to wear a smile before the current pro-people police force.
Police in social development
The institution has gone a mile to start a Police academy that will train officers to give them required skills. The overall aim is to develop police officers and security agents capable of preserving security, stability and discipline, hence effectively contributing to the economic and social development of the country.
The Rwanda National Police in collaboration with other security agencies have managed to; protect, monitor, defend, guard, patrol, watch, supervise, check and maintain law and order in society.
The police have managed to protect those in danger; especially the targeted to satisfying levels, provide emergency medical services, deal with traffic problems and call in fire fighters when needed.
The Police offer unique social services like helping construction of village houses for the vulnerable and protecting the environment.
The vivid example is the 250 house construction project by the police in the villages of Nyagatovu and Kitazigurwa in Rwamagana and Kayonza districts. The work is aimed at realizing the Vision 2020 Umurenge Program (VUP) in the country.
The Police have further pushed their tentacles to protect the biodiversity, as manifested by its recent commendable work in creating numerous fire breakers a round Akagera National Park.
All these developments and many to come put the Rwanda National Police, and the society in general, on a good road towards sustainable development in the near future.