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.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Our officers must obey the law while enforcing the law, otherwise they aren’t different from vigilantes. The question, then, as Roman poet Juvenal puts it is “Quis custodiet ispos custodes”, Latin for ‘Who will guard the guards?”.

    We are talking here about monitoring of police performance through effective supervision and regular legislative oversight. For instance, how does one evaluate crime statistics when most members of the public are so distrustful of the police that they don’t bother report crimes perpetrated against them, or others.

    This should claim the attention of our political leadership, because uniformed men and women are the public face of government. Which suggests that their misbehaviors could undermine reputation of government; and not to mention that security sector overreaction usually leads to “commotion and chaos”.

  2. What else can I say ? This article is written by a person who understands the way LNP operates. To understand the LNP, one must understand the motive for which many recruits join the LNP. Many join to exercise power, as a means of survival (without any motive whatsoever for maintaining law and order),some join to become corrupt. Brutality and corruption is the order of the day for many LNP officers “of the law”.

    Wreckless driving and display of muscle is a common place within the LNP. “Da gormen property, drive vay like u like”. Many of these officers maintain no sense of responsibility. I am not against LNP receiving “theoretical” police education and training from a Nigerian police academy , but Alas!, don’t you see how the Nigerian police force operates on the field ?? There is a saying “like father , like son”. If some LNP officers undergo practical training in Nigeria (and do practice as taught), do you expect any law and order from them ?

    • No disrespect meant to the Nigerian Police force though. But, that’s just how it is ! Let qualified and well meaning Liberian Police personnel (education staff) train their own officers.

  3. Police in Liberia are vulnerable to dangers,being under paid, when civilians do any harm to them it goes as zero so more is to be done.Not only posting stories that gain public attention without investigation

    • I agree, but Alas! didn’t you know as an officer what kind of “system you were signing in to “?

    • Police everywhere around the world are vulnerable to danger, in fact police in Liberia face less danger than other police in countries in Africa like, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, South Africa etc. Our police just need to be thought to do the right thing.

  4. Mr. Stewart

    A little boy squeezes a tiny bird in the palm of his hand, and asks a wise man, “Sir, is the bird dead or alive?” “The wise man responds saying, “Even though I may not know whether it is dead or alive, but I do know that the bird’s life is in your hands.”

    Liberians may never be able to tell at all times whether the LNP is a force for good or not, because any government is capable of deception. However, one thing is certain; and that is, when the people overwhelmingly ushered in the CDC administration they entrusted into their hands the safety and security of the citizens.

    The government needs to take heed that some gradual, subtle changes may be taking place under the surface. It will be foolhardy to believe that Liberia may no longer degenerate to the days of the obscene violence.

    The grievances and public outcry of the average people against the unprofessional behavior of the law enforcement agents could be used as a barometer to gauge the sentiments of the citizens on how they feel overall about the government’s attitude towards their welfare.

    Time will tell very soon!

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