Political involvement of the police is not per se a new phenomenon. Indeed it is well known that during colonial period the police were in politics in a way, to gain prominence during the 1980s. They often owned their jobs and promotions to the local alderman and were expected to cooperate with political wards, bosses and other sachems of the machines.

The police are in all cases keenly sensitive to their political environment without in all cases being governed by it. Their political concerns are ordinarily reserved for those decisions affecting their careers as individual members of the bureaucracy.

Yet there was traditionally another, perhaps more significant way in which the police were political as the active arm of the status quo. For decades the police were the main bulwark of the opposition, but most of these men experienced encounters with the police in their youth. But people have come to see the police as enforcers of the status quo.

While these types of political involvement pose serious questions, recent events point to a new and far significant politicization of the police. This politicization exacerbates the problems that are inherent, for example using the police to enforce the status quo against minority groups; but more significantly, it raises questions that are at the very basis of our conception of the role of the police.


The importance of the police to our legal processes can hardly be overestimated. The police are the interpreters of the legal order to the population; indeed, for many people, they are the sole source of contact with the legal system. Moreover police are allowed to administer force even deadly force.

Finally, the police make low visibility decision, because the nature of their job often allows for exercise of force which is not subject to review by higher authorities. Styles of enforcement vary from place to place, and informality often prevails. So what the police do is often perceived as what the law is, which  is not an accurate perception.

At the same time, and because he is a law enforcement officer, a policeman is expected to exhibit neutrality in the law, to abide by standards of due process, and to be responsible to higher officials. The concept of police professionalization connotes the further discipline that a profession imposes; and while the police have not yet achieved all of these standards, it is useful to list some of them. For example, one expects a professional group to have a body of specialized knowledge and high level of education, training, skills and performance. The peer group should enforce these standards, and elements of state control may even be interjected (as is true, for instance, of doctors and attorneys).

Complicating matters, however, is the policeman’s perception of his job, for this may conflict with those demands and expectations. For example, the policeman views himself as an expert in apprehending persons guilty of crimes. Since guilty persons should be punished, he often resents (and may not comply with) rules of procedural due process seeing them as administrative obstacle. So also when a policeman arrests a suspect, he must likely have made a determination that the suspect is guilty. Thus, it may appear irrational to him to be required to place this suspect in an adjudicatory system which presumes innocence.

Moreover, there is tendency to move from this position to equating ‘the law with a force’. Thus, the policeman is likely to focus more on order than on legality and to develop a special conception of illegality. These tendencies are accentuated by and contribute to the growing police frustration, militancy and politicization.

In concluding, thus, we find that the policeman in Sierra Leone is over worked, under-trained, under-paid and under-educated. This view gives little consideration to the effect of such social factors as poverty and discrimination and virtually ignores the possibility of legitimate social discontent.  Giving their social role and views the police have become increasingly frustrated, alienated, and angry. These feelings are being expressed in a growing militancy and political activism.

In short, the police are protesting. Moreover, direct police challenges to departmental and civic authority have followed recent disorders. To our political system, prejudice pervades the police attitudes and actions. No government institution appears so deficient in its understanding of the constructive role of descent in a constitutional democracy as the police.

Thus, it should not be surprising that police response to mass protests has resulted in a steady escalation of conflict and violence. We have seen numerous instances where violence has been initiated or exacerbated by police actions and attitude.

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