Just Before State Police: First Things First for Any Change to Work

Emmanuel Uzo Obi

We are today witnessing increasing number of calls for the establishment of State Police forces in Nigeria. These calls have become desperate , because of heightened insecurity made worse by the long history of poor policing in Nigeria. While a decentralized system of policing looks extremely attractive, it is an overly complex process and comes with great risks unless it is well planned, organized, has an oversight system in place, and the reasons for the prevailing poor policing methods addressed before rolling out. The country must be extremely careful not to replicate poor policing in the proposed state police forces.

Before I talk about Policing, I will first consider these two important concepts that relate to the role of the police: security versus public safety. Safety and security are closely interrelated subjects, but they are different. Nigeria has always emphasized security while thinking that safety is less important or that both mean the same. Although safety and security both relate to the protection of lives and assets, a proper understanding of both concepts is important to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of agencies responsible for these functions. I will highlight the basic difference between the two concepts. Safety is the protection against hazards, i.e., accidents that are unexpected and unintentional while security is the state of being protected or protection against threats that are unexpected and intentional. The goal of both security and safety is to create a safe and secure environment for both Nigerians and foreigners. Though the basic underlying idea of both safety and security is to protect the assets (whether a person or an organization) by creating safe, secure, risk-free conditions, security pertains more to protection against criminal activities, and employing a guard, security officers or installing CCTV in your premises are provisions under security. On the other hand, safety is the protection against hazards which are unintentional and includes protection against medical and other hazards. They require employing additional personnel such as fire fighters, and paramedics. Therefore, to ensure the safety and security of human lives and assets, a network or security architecture must be developed to ensure a safe and secure environment conduce for economic and national development. Now that these two concepts have been explained, let us look at the policing function.

The Police as an organization is extremely important because it is responsible for preventing crime, protecting the public and enforcing the law. As a law enforcement agency, the police must ensure criminal justice with other government agencies such as the court system and the corrections/prisons service. To achieve these goals, the structure of the policing system is particularly important. There are two major formations in the police system worldwide and these are centralized and decentralized. These two major police structures are not beyond criticism. Proponents of decentralized policing are quick to point out countries like the United States, but they have failed to pay close attention to critical issues involved such as multiple police jurisdictions, oversight, training, and seamless interagency cooperation and other components of the US decentralized system of policing. Nigeria presently has one tier of policing which is managed by the federal government. This single tier enforces both federal, state, and local laws. The United States has multiple layers which include federal, state, and local levels of policing. State and local police do not enforce federal law while federal agencies enforce federal law. So, it will take a great deal of planning and challenging work by the Federal Ministry of Justice and their state counterparts as well as training to transition to a decentralized system of policing and law enforcement. It cannot be an overnight process and so in the meantime, the federal government can begin by restructuring, and reorganizing federal agencies, and then setting up the framework for the existence of state and local agencies, building public safety and security infrastructure that will support policing.

Let us consider an example of a situation that will arise if this decentralization is not carefully planned and organized. Which of the agencies will be responsible for election security during elections? Is election security a federal or state issue? Let us keep in mind that the party that controls the federal government may be different from the party that controls the state police. Election in Nigeria is governed by federal law therefore it seems to me federal law enforcement agencies will be responsible for election security. What happens if a suspect flees and crosses a state’s boundary/state line? A state’s police have jurisdiction only within its boundaries. When do federal police step in to assist? There are several other scenarios that could come up and so decentralization must be planned and well organized since this is unchartered area for Nigeria to avoid conflicts which could be violent and lead to unpleasant consequences. Establishment of state police forces will eventually lead to the phasing out of the existing national police force. The FG should consider setting up a highly specialized, equipped and trained federal agency like the FBI. While trying to reform policing in Nigeria, we must strive to reduce the vulnerability of police personnel to corruption and do away with existing colonial structures such as the police service commission.

Policing in the USA has evolved from what it used to be from around 1626. Both the public police and private security companies play crucial roles in maintaining safety and security, but I will examine public policing first. Today, Policing in the United States is highly decentralized and specialized, and it is an information-based system that tracks and maps crime patterns and trends and held accountable for dealing with crime problems in their areas of jurisdiction. To better understand a decentralized policing system, I will briefly present and overview of policing in the United States. Policing in the United States is conducted by 18,000 agencies and at various levels. The size of these agencies varies and ranges from one person to 40,000 officers. Every state has its own nomenclature for agencies, and their powers, responsibilities and funding vary from state to state. For example, some states may use the nomenclature “STATE POLICE” for their highway patrol while others may use “ STATE HIGHWAY PATROL” while the personnel are referred to as “STATE TROOPERS.” At the county level, some counties use the nomenclature COUNTY POLICE and others simply “COUNTY SHERRIF.”

At the federal level, Federal Law Enforcement Agencies have full federal authority and nationwide jurisdiction to enforce federal laws. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is responsible for most law enforcement duties at the federal level. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)is under the DOJ and the director reports to the Attorney General of the United States who is also the Chief Law Enforcement Officer. Interestingly in Nigeria, the Chief Law Enforcement Officer is the Inspector General of Police as Nigeria’s Attorney General is simply the Chief Law Officer. It is interesting to observe that state governors do not have immunity from criminal prosecution in the United States.

Every state in the US has its own set of law enforcement agencies with statewide jurisdiction that are responsible for enforcing state laws. One of such agencies is known as the State Bureau of Investigation(SBI) which is the equivalent of the FBI in the states. The number of law enforcement agencies each state has varies from state to state. The state DOJ works to prevent crime and support law enforcement, to safeguard consumers, and to defend the State, its people, and their constitutional rights. In addition, the state DOJ sets law enforcement training standards and curriculum and as well as the certification of law enforcement officers.

At the county level the county police are responsible for policing rural and unincorporated areas of the over 3000 (three thousand) counties in the United States. On the other hand, municipal police or city policy departments maintain public safety and respond to various incidents within their jurisdiction, including violent crimes, property crimes, traffic offenses, and public disturbances. These agencies serve as an essential part of community policing and law enforcement efforts. There are other special purpose police departments such as college police, school district police, airport police, hospital police.

Training is also a huge part of policing in the USA from basic law enforcement training academies to other types of police academies. Basic Law Enforcement Training Academies are typically non-residential and prepare their students for board certifications.

The 911 Emergency Communications Centers is considered the backbone of police patrol operations in the United States. Alongside this is the criminal justice information system. These are outside the scope of this article.

Now I will briefly examine the role of private security companies in the United States. Private security companies support their clients to successfully solve security challenges. They provide their clients with strategic services they need to stay safe and informed. Their clients include businesses, individuals, and organizations. Their personnel or officers include both armed and unarmed and their strategic services include body protection bodyguard services. Private security officers are well trained and certified to perform their duties. In addition, they depend on technology to coordinate their operations and response.

Just before decentralization of policing in Nigeria, there are important and immediate steps to be taken to improve police performance and emergency response. The federal government must permit private security companies to carry weapons. Only personnel who have been trained should be licensed to bear firearms. Empowering private security companies will allow the Nigeria Police to withdraw its personnel from private body protection duties immediately.

The abuse of sirens must end, and motorists must yield to emergency vehicles responding to emergencies once these vehicles activate their sirens. This is a key enforcement action that must take place now on Nigeria highways. The Nigerian Communications Communication must facilitate Emergency Communication Centers in the 774 local government areas and urban cities to enable the flow of information from the public to the call centers and to field operations.

The Federal Government should consider sending police trainers to attend train -the -trainer courses overseas for firearms training and marksmanship. These trainers will then return to Nigeria to retrain police men. All police officers must be equipped with police duty gear and the standard firearm issue as well as body protective armor. Police patrol operations management is critical to the success of police patrol operations. A Fleet Fuel Management System is essential for police patrol operations. This will ensure effective police patrol operations in cities and towns.

The Federal Road Safety Commission being responsible for registration of motor vehicles in Nigeria must ensure that the license plates on vehicles readily reveal information of the vehicle owners to patrol officers to enable them to make informed decisions.

To promote community policing, the federal government must begin to phase out police barracks and police officers assisted to rent or purchase their homes. Minimum educational requirements to employ an entry level police officer should not be less a school certificate and a criminal background check. Hiring of former terrorists cannot be supported on any grounds whatsoever. Every state that licenses private security and law enforcement officers must have specific training curriculum and a state electronic registry of these personnel. I have proposed the establishment of the equivalent of the FBI in Nigeria as the first steps towards phasing out the Nigeria Police. This process must include creating an Automated Fingerprint Information System (AFIS) and a training academy for federal law enforcement.

I have discussed some of the immediate actions the federal government must take while planning decentralization. There needs to be a reassessment and rationalization of existing agencies and then a decision taken to retain or scrap those that are unnecessary duplications. One of the major recommendations is to create an agency equivalent to the federal bureau of investigations and then dissolve the federal road safety commission and return the function to the states.

•Emmanuel Obi is a professor of cybersecurity and public affairs analyst and writes from North Carolina.