The third of the Law in Crisis Series captioned POLICING AND COVID-19: IS THE POLICE STRUGGLING, COPING OR SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN? AND WITH WHAT PRECISELY? was held on Thursday, 14th May 2020 at 01:00 PM (GMT). Discussions took place on Zoom and were streamed live on YouTube and Facebook with stakeholders from across the globe actively participating. The conversation was purported to understand the dilemma of the police force, know how they are coping during this crisis and solicit ideas on how to better resource the police force for the effective performance of their duties.
The moderator for the discussion was Ms. Shamima Muslim, Founder and Convener for Alliance for Women in Media Africa. The panellists for the discussion comprised Prof. Kwesi Aning, Director of the Faculty of Academic Affairs and Research, Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre; Dr. Sena Afua Dei-Tutu, Lecturer, University of Ghana, School of Law; Mr. Emmanuel Sowatey, PhD candidate, University of Cambridge and Former Senior Peace and Development Advisor, UNDP Nigeria; Nana Kofi Quakyi, PhD Candidate at New York University College of Global Health; Commissioner Kofi Boakye, Research, Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluation, Ghana Police Service; and Supol. Ms. Sheila Kessie Abayie-Buckman, Director of Public Affairs of the Ghana Police Service.
The conference focused on the state of the Ghana Police Service, struggling, coping or in between; adopting a modernised model of policing in COVID-19; respect for human rights in enforcing COVID-19 restrictions; alteration of arresting protocol in COVID-19; safety measures adopted by The Police Service in COVID-19; evolution to cater for cybercrimes; and adapting towards the new normal.
To initiate the conversation, the question of whether the Ghana Police Service was struggling or coping in the wake of the pandemic was posed to the panel. This resonated with the audience as Ghanaians developed a keen interest in how the security services were dealing with coronavirus, mostly attributed to the viral videos of police brutality being circulated via social media. In her response, Dr. Dei-Tutu, commended the Ghana Police Service for their response to the crisis, compared to the manner in which their colleagues in other countries have been reported to be managing it. She applauded the police for the calm and spirited approach towards protecting and enforcing the law.
With regards to the respect for human rights in enforcing COVID-19 restrictions, The Director of Public Affairs of the Ghana Police Service, Supol. Abayie-Buckman expressed that police officers have received training on operation techniques. She noted that a public safety issue regarding health warrants the application of the humanitarian, democratic soft approach and not the hard police approach. She pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic was an evolving situation that warranted partnerships with other agencies to ensure continued training of police officers. Supol. Abayie-Buckman added that police officers are required to consider the intent of the framers of the law, which is “protect the public and stop the spread’’.
Concerning alteration of arresting protocol in COVID-19, Professor Kwesi Aning, began the conversation by stating that the Police are performing better than we could have expected. He was of the view that the focus should be on the history of the Ghana Police Service, the types of training the Police have been provided with, the operational intent and their skill sets, their logistic abilities and most importantly, the unique nature of the assignment they have to deal with at the moment. He mentioned that no police service in the world was prepared for this pandemic; hence the need for the change in their regular duties. On this same matter, Mr. Emmanuel Sowatey suggested that another focus should be on how the criminal justice system worsens policing or makes it better. He hinted that, at the initial stage, it is not surprising that the police may have engaged with the public without protective equipment and that even doctors and other medical practitioners did same. In his opinion, the varieties of policing and the different impacts of policing in different communities are vital in understanding police responses to the pandemic.
On the issue of adapting to the new normal, COP Kofi Boakye said what the new normal means for the police force is an increase in the tasks they have to perform. According to him, they have to prevent crime, see to the enforcement of human rights and maintain law and order, while protecting themselves from the disease. He added that COVID-19 will test the toughness and preparedness of the nation’s security forces to protect the country on account of the crisis.
As to the safety measures adopted by the Police Service during the pandemic, Nana Kofi Quakyi cited the case of Wuhan where the pandemic started; twice the number of police officers died than healthcare workers. A total of about 7000 police officers were exposed to COVID-19. He pointed out that police officers face a very high risk of contracting the virus. Hence, the need for operational guidelines in terms of detention and arrest to be in effect. He also said attention should be directed at how the Police respond to novel situations in real-time in the context of the health risks that might be associated with them. Nana Kofi Quakyi believed it was an area that needed a broad conversation.
In terms of audience participation, social media users interacted on UGSoL’s social media platforms, thus, YouTube and Facebook during this seminar. Also, people had the opportunity to ask questions over Zoom.