Questioning Police Competence to Handle Riots

By Allieu Sahid Tunkara-The Watchpen
The uncontrollable riots in the northern town of Lunsar and in the Western Rural town of Tombo and other security threats elsewhere have compelled citizens to question the competence in the maintenance of state security.
The two communities, Lunsar and Tombo where fatal riots occurred, few days back, are known for mining and fishing respectively.
The survival of the two communities is highly dependent on the two activities, and will not hesitate to lay their lives for their livelihood.
The twin riots are outbursts of frustration by local residents with government actions and decisions.
Lunsar residents want SL Mining to operate in their communities while the government chooses otherwise. Similarly, in Tombo, the fishermen want to fish but a local authority, the Town Chief says no.
The disagreements between the subjects and the leaders are enough to send compelling messages to the security apparatus that the two situations pose a threat to the existence and stability of the state.
No gainsaying that security crises are bound to happen if the disagreements are not handled professionally.
Virtually, most security experts confirmed to Nightwatch that the police lack the required structures to nip in the bud the security threats hanging on the state.
However, Deputy Head of Police media, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Samuel Saio Conteh says the police are fully capacitated to handle riots.
“Proper structures exist in the police force to handle riots wherever they erupt in the country,” he said.
The riots have left the heads of very senior police officers rolling, and more expected to roll in the not-too-distant future.
However, Deputy Head of Police Media declined to state that the mass sacking of senior police officers had linkage with the riots.
The Military Aid to Civil Power (MACP) was a security policy formulated and adopted by the National Security Council (NSC) of Sierra Leone through the recommendation of United Nations Civilian Police (UNCIVPOL) and the United Nations Assistant Mission In Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).
The NSC is the highest security institution in Sierra Leone of which a sitting President is always the head.
The MACP was one of the exit strategies of UNCIVPOL and UNAMSIL expected to respect the will of Sierra Leoneans to live in perpetual peace and security.
The policy was carefully and properly formulated with due recognition for the freedoms, civil liberties, dignity and rights of the individuals.
Top security personnel have told Nightwatch that if the policy is properly implemented, riots can be effectively forestalled or contained without any serious violation of human rights and civil liberties.
The security policy prescribes the structures and road map for effective handling of riots by the country’s security apparatus.
The article explores the UNCIVPOL, UNAMSIL and NSC structures on the guidance of highly experienced senior police officers now retired.
First and foremost, when riots are about to occur or have occurred, the Office of the Inspector-General or in his absence, the office of Assistant-Inspector-General (AIG) in charge of operations is the ‘GOLD COMMAND,’ the office of any Regional AIG has the ‘SILVER COMMAND’ and the offices of Local Unit Commanders (LUC’s) hold the ‘BRONZE COMMAND’ with appropriate maps and map readers.

The role of Gold, Silver and Bronze Commands in the Lunsar and Tombo Riots
The CIVPOL and UNAMSIL recommendation in the country’s internal security arrangement calls for the utilisation of various police components and the army.
In the Lunsar and Tombo riots, the Intelligence Police Units (Integrated Police Services), Crowd Control Units (CCU’s), Police Support Units (PSU’s), Mobile Arms Response Group (MRCG) and lastly the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) have a role to play.
The IIS collects and collates pertinent information that would be transformed into security intelligence after proper scrutiny, the CCU hold truncheons, the PSU is armed with teargas cannisters and shields, the MARG is armed with assault rifles, of course, the RSLAF are armed forces.
These components may come in as and when the dynamics on the ground call for the prevention and containment of riots in any part of Sierra Leone.
For a proper contextual analysis of the security arrangement, the Lunsar riots will be treated as a case study.
Lunsar Police Division stands on its own considering the command and control structure expected of a police division.
Granted Lunsar Police Station is a division, all the police components inter alia enumerated must exist there.
According to retired senior police officers, the CCU, PSU and the MARG must comprise 48 personnel to be controlled and supervised by experienced inspectors and sergeants with the overall commander being a senior police officer.
The acrimony between government and Lunsar residents must have compelled the divisional police leadership to deploy IIS personnel to covertly monitor the looming threat and report accordingly.
The reports sent by IIS would inform police strategy and tactics to avert the tragedy that befell Lunsar town on the fateful day.
One of the retired senior police officers identifies problem-solving approach for the Lunsar situation based on the reports of the IIS.
“If that approach is taken, definitely the riots would have been contained,” he stressed.
“In an event police pro-active strategy fails, the reactive police model comes in,” the senior police officer says.
In the Lunsar riots, according to the security arrangement, 48 CCU personnel must be despatched to the scene provided the mob do not throw stones.
But, if the mob throw stones, 48 PSU personnel must be despatched to the scene to contain the riots.
Conversely, if protesters arm themselves and open fire at the police officers so much that the police cannot contain the fire power even with the MARG response, the RSLAF may come in under the MACP protocols.
According to the senior police officer, a Handing Over and Taking Over (HOTO) documents must be signed between either between the Chief of Defence Staff and the Inspector-General of Police or the AIG in the region or the Brigade Commander to legalise military intervention.
In the Lunsar and Tombo riots, the senior police officer says, only IIS, CCU and PSU were needed to put the situation under control.
“In the circumstances in Lunsar town, there must be a coordinated link between the BRONZE, SILVER and GOLD commands. In other words, the LUC in Lunsar must report the exact nature of police response to the riots to the AIG in PortLoko and the AIG in turn must report to either the Inspector-General or the AIG operations,” the police officer explained.
In that Direction, the officer says, appropriate orders and commands must flow from GOLD to SILVER and from SILVER to BRONZE.
In all of these security arrangements, two cardinal principles are respected throughout the operations.
The first is police primacy in the internal security of the state and military intervention in riots is justified on an apparent lack of police capacity to handle the riots.
The two principles, in state security, means that the army should be the last to come in, and must hand over state security immediately to the police after they have restored order.
It goes without saying that if all those security structures and arrangements do not exist in relation to the Lunsar and Tombo riots, the Inspector-General of Police, the AIG’s North-West and Freetown-East and the LUC’s Lunsar and Waterloo divisions must answer to critical questions.
The judgement is based on the grounds that the real test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder and not the visible capacity to handle it.

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