Is the Liberia National Police Truly a Force for Good?

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During the Liberian civil war, there was a complete breakdown in law and order as all courts of law in the country had ceased to function. In the aftermath of the civil war, the international community provided assistance through the United Nations Military Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) for the retraining and restructuring of the country’s security apparatus including the Liberia National Police (LNP).

As the conduct of the nation’s security forces was considered key to post-war governance, the country’s international partners including the United States, Sweden, France, China, Nigeria, etc. ploughed in material, human and financial resources to help rebuild the Liberia National Police Force and restore its image as a “force for good”.

And this was to be accomplished as part of the Security Sector Reform (SSR) efforts undertaken by the new government. But the task of rebuilding the country’s security forces was by no means an easy undertaking given the lack of resources required and given the level of polarization in the country which implied that many would be Police recruits had a history of involvement in the Liberian civil war as armed fighters.

European countries including France, Sweden, Ireland and others were instrumental in supporting the LNP with logistics and training to enable it perform better. Officers of the LNP have since attended training programs in Nigeria, the United States and elsewhere aimed at enhancing better performance and improving ethical behavior.

But despite the reforms and re-training exercises and programs, the tangible benefits that such training should have delivered appears negligible in view of persistent reports of Police misconduct including bribery and the illegal and excessive use of force. Resultantly, civilians have continued to remain victims of police actions contrary to its motto, “SERVE AND PROTECT.”

According to research conducted by Search for Common Ground, the Liberia National Police (LNP) is on record in various human rights reports most notably US State Department Human Rights Reports for unethical practices including bribery and brutality. We acknowledge that the Police and allied units in the security sector receive low salaries, benefits and incentives.

But in terms of logistical support, the LNP is said to be the largest recipient of vehicles among the various security units including the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) and the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA). And the public finds it unnerving that, a lot of these vehicles have been damaged due to reckless driving as evidenced by scores of dysfunctional vehicles parked at the Police headquarters and other Police depots and garages across Liberia.

But more than this, Police brutality has remained a recurring theme in public discourse especially since the return to constitutional governance in 1999 and thereafter including up to present. On Wednesday, June 27, for example, protest action in Kebbah, Barnesville, triggered by what residents claimed was reckless driving by vehicles and motorcycles plying the route connecting Dixville and Caldwell to Barnesville that resulted in the unfortunate accident in which two individuals lost their lives and several got wounded in a head-on collision between a truck and a motorcycle .

Police called in to restore calm to an agitated crowd, which Police reports said was on the brink of mob action, opened fire on the crowd with live ammunition that wounded a female passer-by in the neck. The woman is reportedly undergoing treatment at a local clinic. The Police, through its spokesperson, H. Moses Carter, has however denied opening fire on the crowd despite numerous eyewitness accounts affirming that the Police did indeed open live fire on the restive crowd.

And this has led many in the Public to believe that Police accounts of the incident are a mere cover-up intended to assuage public anger and counter an increasingly negative public perception of the Police. There are, however, a number of examples this newspaper can cite pointing to police brutality and the use of excessive lethal force:

In May this year, Officer Roosevelt Demey shot to death a motorcyclist and also shot himself in the hand ostensibly as a cover-up attempt. In 2011, we recall officers of the Liberia National Police brutalizing students who were protesting the absence of their teachers in classes due to dissatisfaction over their lack of pay and incentives.

An investigation conducted by a committee headed by Sister Mary Laurene Brown laid blame at the feet of the Police. Also in 2011 there was a clash between Police and protesting members of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) in which one person was reportedly killed but police denied responsibility for the death of the victim.

Video recordings of that incident clearly showed Nigerian UNMIL officers struggling to restrain a trigger-happy Police officer from firing into the crowd. We acknowledge Martin K.N. Kollie for providing the public statistics of police brutality he recorded from 2006 to present. Here are a few he highlighted:

On September 20, 2006, two lawmakers were assaulted by LNP officers in two separate incidents; one at a checkpoint and another in a courthouse. LNP Inspector General, Beatrice Munah Sieh apologized for this.

In March 2006, four LNP officers were suspended for assaulting a journalist. On June 19, 2007, LNP officers beat four journalists covering a student demonstration in support of faculty demands for payment of salary arrears at the University of Liberia.

On March 13, 2006, a deputy director of police was dismissed for stealing US$4,000 worth of gasoline coupons. In other instances commercial drivers have repeatedly complained of Police harassment along the highway at various checkpoints, especially during public holidays such as Christmas and Independence Day.

These instances and many more have raised questions about the efficacy of the SSR process which was intended to produce an efficient, credible, trustworthy, disciplined and reliable Police Force. They have also raised questions about Police recruitment and vetting processes which has apparently allowed so many bad apples to seep through the cracks.

Further, the Police should discourage the use of lethal ammunition to quell civil disturbances which is alarmingly disturbing and which must be nipped in the bud. Police authorities should always remain mindful of the fact that the use of such brutal tactics against civilians can only serve to undermine public trust and invite resistance whether random, spontaneous or organized. And that will spell doom for the peace and stability which eluded us for close to a generation.

Although Presidential Press Secretary, Sam Mannah had said that the President does not need a strategy to lead the country, we are urging the government to design a strategy that will enhance the ability of the Police to effectively and efficiently perform and, above all, regain public trust.

Without this, we fear that mob justice will become an appealing option citizens may resort to in order to satisfy their need for justice. And that is a potentially ominous development that may consequently lead to general insecurity and instability.

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