Police officers have been killed while performing their duties since 1821 when professional policing was introduced by the British to the then Gold Coast, now the Republic of Ghana and formalized in 1894 with the passage of Police Ordinance which gave legal authority for the formation of a Civil Police Force now the Ghana Police Service (GPS). However, the number of deaths in the last six years has alarmed the general public and many are calling for stringent measures to be instituted to protect our gallant men and women in uniform.
Under the Police Service Act, 1970 (Act 350) of Ghana, the GPS seeks to protect life and property, prevent and detect crimes, apprehend or arrest and prosecute offenders, preserve peace and good order and enforce all laws, Acts, Decrees and other regulations with which it is directly charged. Its vision is to be a world-class police service capable of delivering planned, democratic, protective and peaceful services up to standards of international best practice.
Its mission is to deliver services in crime prevention, detection, apprehension and prosecution of offenders consistent with the expectations of Ghanaians for maximum protection in safe, secure and peaceful communities. Its cherished values are honesty, firmness and fairness and working in partnership with communities.
Within a period of six years, that is, from 2013 to January 2018, forty-eight police officers have died in line of duty. Out of the number of deaths of police officers recorded during this period under review, armed robbers took nine officers’ lives, representing 18.75%. Two of the deaths were through knives and seven of such felonious crimes were committed with guns. Four of the deaths were through police friendly fires and accounted for 8.33%. Motor accidents claimed a total of twenty-six officers. Out of this figure, seventeen were through normal accidents, representing 35.42% and runovers and hit and runs by civilian drivers accounted for nine police lives, representing 18.75% of the total loss.
Eight officers were killed by unidentified or unknown gunners. This figure represents 16.66% of the total deaths while electrocution was responsible for one officer’s death, which takes 2.08%. It is instructive to note that officers who were killed with offensive weapons during the period under review totaled seventeen which accounted for 35.42% and equal to the number who died through normal motor accidents.
A cursory glance at the statistics produced above calls for proactive measures to abate this phenomenon and the following indicators can be of immense assistance to keep our police officers safe. Ensuring on-the-job safety is everyone’s responsibility. However, the top hierarchy should provide officers with the best safety policies and procedures in line with international best practices based on current research findings and provide opportunities for training to hone their skills and abilities. In short, safety should be made a priority for the police service.
There is the need for extra training for our serving officers. Training is a fundamental factor for officer safety, health, and wellness and it is not the area to cut corners or costs or make excuses. Periodic hours must be dedicated for in-service training and advanced training programs to enhance officers’ knowledge, minimize risks or mistakes, and help hone duty-specific skills and abilities.
Tactical training enables officers to keep honing skills such as driving, handling violent encounters, and operating less than lethal and lethal weapons. Driver training is essential to keep officers well informed of best practices and techniques in different training scenarios such as classroom learning and driving experiences using range driving, simulators, and computer-based simulators. Police officers should be familiar with both the use of the police vehicle for regular driving, and also in extreme driving cases, such as under poor weather conditions, or for high-speed manoeuvring while performing pursuits and how to use vehicle radios, lights and sirens effectively.
Violent encounters are one of the most hazardous risks for officers. Attacks can be direct, and physical such as striking, pushing, tripping, grabbing, kicking, scratching, biting, or spitting, or with weapons like knives, guns, or clubs. Constant training and practicing techniques that prepare officers for situations such as these are crucial in safeguarding their lives and those of other officers like the four officers killed by their colleagues between 2013 and 2017.
Due to the nature of their work, police personnel are often exposed to incidents or situations that cause stress, which can take a toll on their work and private lives. They need to know how to approach decision making while under stress, as well as how to manage stress effectively.
Efficient, effective and functional physical fitness training should be a constant part of law enforcement. This is necessary to prepare officers for their daily policing duties.
A key function of the police is upholding law and order. Police officers have a right and obligation to defend themselves and protect others, exercising force only where necessary, in a reasonable manner and in proportion to the perceived threat. The law demands that police personnel be accountable for their actions when using force in a democratic society. Consequently, basic defensive tactics like tactical principles; threat cues; reaction time/distance; defence against knives and similar weapons; state of mind; states of awareness; body searching; handcuffing; projection and immobilization techniques; passive resistance; block, hitting, control tactics and techniques regarding weapons; types of weapons; hidden weapons; individual arrest; control of violent attitudes; fatal errors; considerations when encountering suspects and the cardinal rules of firearms safety must be reinforced.
Training in survival skills must also be of importance to our serving officers. The uniformed police officers must know how to assess risk situations and be able to take precautionary actions in their daily duties, using proper judgment based on common sense and avoiding carelessness. Throughout their careers, uniformed police officers spend countless hours in patrol vehicles, patrolling assigned areas, constantly exposed to an endless variety of situations and circumstances.
They will be expected to make many tactical decisions throughout a given day. Training in how to make these decisions and how to implement them is critical to their survival. The training and practice of basic defensive tactics, together with a survival mindset, will enhance the uniformed police’s performance of their daily duties as well as protect their lives and the lives of citizens for whom they are responsible.
Law enforcement is normally achieved without any danger to police personnel or other citizens. However, the police occasionally encounter persons who use violence in order to evade detection and prosecution. In some cases, police officers are killed or wounded by offenders who take and use firearms, as in some of the cases under review. Therefore, armed police officers must know techniques for weapon use and handling, and how to regain control of firearms that are taken from them. To develop and improve officers’ general ability to quickly assess the level of danger in situations and make proper decisions on whether or not to use firearms. The training will help them to develop and improve their reaction times and to provide them with the techniques for weapon use and handling.
Police personnel may face accidents, injuries, heart attacks and sickness while on duty and knowledge in first aid can often mean the difference between life and death in such situations. Since the first duty of police personnel is to protect people, duty requirements and public expectations mandate that the police officer understands the techniques of providing first aid and assistance to themselves and fellow officers until more highly qualified medical professionals arrive. Therefore basic first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills must be learned and maintained throughout an officer’s time in the police service.
Developing and implementing deployment schedules for officers must also be seriously considered by senior officers. These include the number of officers assigned to each operational vehicle in high-crime areas, geographical distance between units to provide timely backup, and avoidance of situations that contribute to sleep deprivation, such as scheduling night shift officers to report for duty the following day.
Sleep deprivation is a major concern, and its impact from overtime and secondary employment by some officers should also be considered in deployment schedules. It contributes to officers’ irritability with the public and inability to maintain calm in situations due to diminishing attentiveness; it also impairs physical and cognitive abilities which may lead to officers becoming vulnerable to dangerous criminals.
Two of the most proactive measures the GPS can take to ensure officers’ safety on the streets are mandatory wearing of body armour and maintaining state-of-the-art armouries. One of the latest technological advancements is the wearing of body cameras, which document the events of an incident, leaving no question as to appropriate safety measures required for officers. There is also the need to maintain weaponry and build police arsenals to compete with the criminals on the street with weapons like Colt AR-15s, Tec-9s, AK-47s, and Uzis.
With criminals commonly using assault weapons, an officer showing up at a gunfight with a handgun will only jeopardize the safety of his or her own life. Due to the proliferation of assault weapons on the street, the GPS must add high-powered assault rifles to their arsenals. Equipping officers with state-of-the-art weaponry from less than lethal to lethal will help to reduce the risk of injury or death. It is also worth budgeting for advanced technology that increases an officer’s capacity to remain safe, through access to real-time data and multi-jurisdictional criminal records while in the field.
Current happenings prescribe critical areas such as police stations and courts for security considerations. Understanding the vulnerabilities in court security, prisoner detainment and transportation are critical to ensuring police officers’ safety in stations and courts. Best practices for court security include among others the provision of comprehensive steps to address, for example, securing access to buildings, courts, chambers, and lobbies; checking officers’ staffing levels and handling in-custody defendants. It is also essential to mount advanced surveillance systems in such locations to prevent crime and assist in investigations when crimes are committed in such premises.
The GPS must be supported with funds to do away with hiring freezes and continuously recruit more personnel into the service, This will allow the leadership to decrease sizes of patrol areas for coverage by patrol teams, increase number of back up officers and personnel for current police stations and court duties at all times and even establish more stations.
Currently, the numerical strength of the police service has been augmented as part of government’s commitment in investing in peace and security and help deal with the Police-Population Ratio (PPR), yet it is still higher than the United Nations’ benchmark of 1:500. The general public must also constantly give timely information to the police to help them to prevent and fight crimes.
Provision and maintenance of optimum health and well-being of officers, including well-ventilated and spacious office and residential accommodation and modern washroom facilities, is also critical in enabling them to think and perform their duties in a safe manner. Indeed, investing and maintaining officers’ health is critical in enhancing their safety. This will certainly boost their courage, confidence and determination to fight crime. Constant equipment compliance checks, proper weapons deployment, and policy and procedure enforcement can significantly minimize officer injuries and fatalities.
Ongoing monitoring and enforcing compliance will set the tone for meeting high standards, expectations, and practices that help to ensure officer safety. Reviewing and implementing deployment strategies that minimize safety risks, utilizing real-time communication and state-of-the-art technologies for field officers and enforcing the proper fit and wearing of protective body armour and gear are some of the tangible strategies to ensure officers’ safety.
Current proposal to insure serving officers is an encouraging step however, the government should go further by improving the general conditions of employment of police officers and increase their salaries to commensurate with the current and emerging risks associated with their profession as the world embraces terrorism and other forms of deviant behaviours by some people.
Moreover, with motor accidents including runovers and hit and runs accounting for 54.17% of the total deaths of officers in the line of duty within the period under review, there should be the intensification of driver education, in the country. Drivers should be constantly educated to respect road safety regulations and to respect police officers and the directives they give to motorists. Police officers can be trained and retrained in the best practices of law enforcement and provided with advanced technology but if the attitudes of vehicles’ owners and drivers to vehicle maintenance and disregard for road safety regulations do not change, the desired effects in officers’ safety cannot be achieved.
These suggestions when implemented will in no small measure reduce the brazen and senseless attacks on officers that have resulted in deaths primarily through ambushed or unprovoked incidents. Safety does not come cheap; therefore, the government should invest heavily in the GPS to save our officers’ lives and curb this disturbing and frightening trend of decimating the staff levels of our men and women in uniform so as to ensure the attractiveness of the service to the youth who are seeking employment in the country.