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Letter to the IGP on Christmas Policing

Tue, 24 Dec 2013 Source: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi

Letter to the IGP on Christmas Policing and Other Matters

Dear Inspector General of Police,

I congratulate you warmly on your new contract extension. Those who know you say that you are a progressive minded officer with bags of international operational experience under your belt. That is good. Ghana needs such police leadership lest we become a full-blown nation of casual law breakers. In my view, you have the most important responsibility in this country because when we get the policing right all the other challenges will fall in line.

I am writing to you today about the urgent matter of Christmas policing. I have no doubt that you and your officers have started your planning. Indeed, we are seeing more police officers at all major road intersections in Accra and reports of the Police Service’s preparedness to protect the people this Christmas have appeared in the media. This is good and reassuring news but only if the police will do what they say they will do. Every year we hear these promises but it appears that police planning is sometimes out of date or based on wrong information and strategy. In any case, the police often say their work would be easier and better done if the public provided them with information and ideas; so another Christmas is here and I am happy to oblige by providing information on one particular hotspot to which the police must pay particular attention.

This is the Accra Mall at the Tetteh Quarshie interchange in Accra. It has become the magnet for Accra youths, especially teens from senior high schools on vacation. Their dates of choice are Boxing Day and New Years with Boxing Day attracting the most crowds although the place gets swollen throughout the period. On Boxing Day last year the place was filled with thousands of young people crammed into the concourse, and the car parks. If any fire had been started from the copious cigarette and marijuana on offer at the place, the resulting panic would have led to several casualties.

The place was so packed with teen bodies that at the height of whatever was attracting them, no one could move. There was no police to be seen. Perhaps there were police there but they were clearly overwhelmed by the crowd or perhaps they were being “visible” in a corner somewhere minding their own business. To be honest, the design of the place and the throng of that crowd were such that if there was a fire the Fire Service could not have coped.

To put it bluntly and forcefully, the Accra Mall car parks are not designed to hold any crowds safely. It has no well-marked exits and the mingling of young people among hundreds of parked cars means there can be no safe passage for the majority of young people if the need arises. With the place being so obviously inappropriate for such crowds it follows that there can be very little supervision. Last year, boys and girls were openly smoking marijuana and taking alcohol, and one wonders what other substances were being consumed at the place. There was open sex between the caravans lining the outer perimeter of the outside car parks. I am talking about girls and boys aged around 12 and 13 years. In short the Accra Mall was not only a scene of crime; it was also a den of sin and iniquity on a massive scale.

The solution is to ban the gathering of such crowds during the season; but just banning them will not solve anything. Today’s young people will use social media to arrange even more dangerous meetings. The solution is for the city authorities and the police to create alternative venue for such crowds. Such a place must be airy, have well-marked exits with access roads, dedicated parking areas and above all places for the police to do their job. In Accra, we could think of the Trade Fair Centre, Efua Sutherland Children’s Park or the Black Star/Independence Square. I would select the Black Star Square because it meets all the above criteria.

In Ghana, complacency, laziness and commercial interests mean that city and national authorities hardly plan any activities during festive and holiday seasons. Mr. IGP – with your experience you can change this. The authorities will have to invite major events organisers to bid for the season or parts of it to stage planned and approved activities at such a safe place during the Christmas period. Ideally, such planning ought to start early in the year, but it is not too late to come up with some interesting ideas. Indeed, if the authorities can arrange to have free music – brass bands and boom boxes at the venue, the boys and girls will come. Then bring truckloads of police to ensure their safety.

In fact, the Christmas policing could be a dry run for what will happen during the World Cup. For a reason that is completely beyond me, football fans, especially supporters of the national team in Accra tend to gather at Osu when the national team wins. As we all know, the streets of Osu are among the busiest and narrowest in the country but despite the economic importance of the district to the capital’s economy, there appears to be no plan to widen them or even reconfigure them to take account of new development. Instead, a new shopping mall has been built at the centre of the “Oxford Street” which is going to direct even more vehicles and pedestrians to the area.

Dear IGP, please allow me to digress. In any country that takes planning seriously the main Osu thoroughfare, the so-called Oxford Street would be turned into a pedestrian zone with big parking spaces on the periphery. Delivery to shops by big trucks would be restricted to night time only and only a few delivery vans would be charged a “congestion fee” to deliver parcels and the like to the area.

Wake up, Sir, this is Ghana, it won’t happen, so let us deal with the reality, which is that during the World Cup people will throng those narrow streets and put themselves and others in danger. We can change all this by directing everybody to a more spacious space such as the Black Star Square as I have already indicated for the Christmas revelries. Again the city authorities and the police can do this simply by putting on a brass band or some form of entertainment and the rest will take care of itself. They could create a parking zone and charge a small fee; that is if they have the capacity to do this safely and in an orderly manner.

And another thing, please remember to send officers to keep the entire Spintex Road open for traffic on 31st December Watch Night services. More on this later.

Chief, if we are honest we must admit that we have seen some changes in policing this year. The “visibility” idea is a good one, but it has to be directed and focused. Over the next few weeks Makola in Accra and all market areas in the country will be crowded. It does not serve anybody for police men and women to be sitting in parked vehicles at street corners. They may be doing “something” that cannot be seen by the untrained eye, but that defeats the purpose of assuring the innocent and preventing crime.

Finally Sir, is it possible to let all police men and women, especially those on traffic and patrol duties understand that when a citizen is explaining his or her viewpoint it should not be taken as a “challenge” to police authority. The police will find citizens more than willing to assist if they adopt a friendly and cooperative posture even to those who may have deliberately or unwittingly done something wrong.

Chief, the country will be grateful for a safe holiday period. As the inscription on the Akuapem bus used to say: I Shall Return.

gapenteng@gmail.com

Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi