Are we losing the battle against armed robbery?

By Daily Graphic
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Can you imagine that an unregistered vehicle was parked at the precincts of a bank without it raising any suspicion? That was why the armed robbers who attacked the Madina branch of the Ecobank in the early morning of Monday, June 23, 2008 succeeded in their operation.

They went away not only with the booty of GH¢ 60, 000, but two fully-loaded AK 47 assault rifles and left behind a young policeman who was only doing his lawful duty.

The daring manner and precision with which the robbers carried out the operation left no doubt that some, if not all of them had some training in weapon handling.

It is also likely that somebody within the Ecobank who had foreknowledge of the schedule of the bullion van could be an accomplice, unless it could be argued that a member of the gang was at the Ecobank head office where the bullion van began its journey to Madina.

Whatever the case, it is quite obvious that the nation has a tough battle ahead if the menace of armed robberies is to be brought under control.

From what started as isolated cases of armed robberies, the situation is gradually getting out of hand with the armed robbers getting more daring and using the most sophisticated weapons and tactics in their operations.

Now, hardly a day passes without armed robbery case(s) being reported in the country. No place can be described as safe. Whether at the workplace, on the streets and highways or in the home, one cannot rule out the danger of armed robbers. And they can strike at any time of the day.

It may be a fruitless assignment trying to determine what has brought about these armed robberies since that may not offer any solution. Suffice it to say that the way sophisticated weapons end up in the hands of dubious persons should be a matter of serious concern to all.

There are many who believe that service personnel are the source of most of the weapons that have found their way into the armouries of armed robbers in the country.

Some of these personnel who go on international peace-keeping operations return home with souvenir items including weapons which they are officially allowed for personal use.

Unfortunately, some of these weapons find their way into wrong hands for monetary reasons. There are isolated cases of serving personnel selling or hiring weapons from state armouries to armed robbers.

The civil wars in the neighbouring countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire and militant activities in the oil-rich Niger Delta of Nigeria mean that there are a lot of weapons in the system which could be easily turned against innocent people by armed robbers.

During Ghana's own revolutionary period between 1979 and 1992, various individuals operating in the national security network and militiamen had official weapons issued to them. Whether these weapons were properly accounted for after the country's transition to civilian administration is a matter for serious debate. In short, there are many weapons in private hands which have no documentation and, therefore, in the event of their being used to commit any crime, such weapons cannot be traced to anyone.

Ghana's relatively peaceful environment in the sub-region has made it attractive to many foreign nationals including some with dubious and criminal intentions. Our hope is the existence of a strong, efficient and effective Police Service to protect the citizenry against the activities of dubious characters. That is where our problem lies.

When making comparisons with the past, we are tempted to believe in what politicians always tell us; that our Police Service has improved in the performance• of its duties. However, when compared with the rate and nature of crime in the country as of now, we may just have to admit that we have a long way to go.

The other time, the Commandant of the Police Training School was almost hysterical when he was narrating the neglect of the training school. The commandant was even trying to blame individuals and companies for not doing enough to assist the school with logistics and equipment to enable it to give police officers the requisite training to combat crime in the country.

The Ghana Police Service is too sensitive and important a national institution to operate on charity. Surviving on the goodwill of individuals, organisations and companies may also compromise the effectiveness of the service, since one good turn deserves another. How will the police react if a philanthropist is caught in the web of the law? That is how far we have come in our lackadaisical approach to national matters.

We may be complaining about the lack of financial resources. But when we take a critical look at some public expenditure, we may conclude that we have lost our sense of national priority.

Our Police Service needs more patrol vehicles, modern communication equipment and more well-trained personnel to promote the necessary physical and psychological protection this country needs for its citizens.

It is a pity that our Police Service should be appealing to individuals and organisations for raincoats and flashlights when our government officials drive in some of the most expensive and sophisticated vehicles around.

The police can operate more effectively if they could move on fast motor-bikes, considering the poor nature of the roads in our cities. Second, each police officer should be equipped with communication gadgets that can link him to his command post. It would have been easier for the Madina get-away vehicle to be chased by a motor-bike than a vehicle in that Madina traffic.

Apart from the poor state of the Police Service, we need to take matters of national security seriously. There are many vehicles with foreign registration numbers or with no registration numbers on our streets. These vehicles operate both day and night and are, therefore, a threat to national security.

Our radio stations are doing well in communicating news on crime to the police. However, sometimes in their enthusiasm, the announcers talk too much and thereby confuse the very policemen and women they want to assist. As it is now, the crime wave, especially armed robbery, is on the ascendancy and it is time efforts were stepped up before the country is overwhelmed by crime.

By Kofi Akordor – Daily Graphic