“Police are the public and the public are the police”

IN discussing the duties of the police within the context of Nigerian law vis-à-vis what obtains in other climes across the globe, regard must be had to the aims and objectives of the founding fathers of modern police.

 As early as 1829, Sir Richard Mayne, in Britain, wrote the following:

“The primary objectives of an efficient police is the prevention of crime: the next is that of detection and punishment of offenders who commit crime. To these ends, all the efforts of police must be directed.

The protection of life and property, the preservation of public tranquility, and the absence of crime, will alone prove whether those efforts have been successful and whether the objectives for which the police were appointed have been attained”.

In attaining the noble objectives set by Sir Richard Mayne as quoted above, much depends on the approval and cooperation of the public, as these have always been determined by degree of esteem and respect in which the police are held. One of the key principles of modern policing in Britain is that the police seek to work with the community and the people see them as part of the community.

For a proper understanding of the duties- cum-functions of modern policing, perhaps it is most apposite to state the nine principles as enunciated by the founder of modern policing in person of Sir Richard Peel. They are known as Sir Robert Peel’s nine principles.

The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

1. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.

2. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of public.

3. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.

4.   Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.

5. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.

6. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interest of community welfare and existence.

7. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary;

8. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

The very first principle of Sir Robert Peel in modern policing (above) accord with first duty of the police as contained in Section 4 of the Police Act, Cap 359, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990 which provides:

“The police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged and shall perform such military duties within or without Nigeria as may be required by them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act”.

 Thus, the prevention of crime and disorder as the basic mission (and reason) for the existence of the police according to Sir Robert Peel and “the prevention and detection of crime”, according to the Police Act, are one and the same.

Let us examine first the concept of crime prevention before examining the other side of the same coin, that is: crime detection.

The Chambers Dictionary (New Edition) defines “crime” as “a violation of law, especially if serious: an act punishable by law; such acts collectively or in the abstract; an act of serious moral wrongdoing; sin; something deplorable”.

On the other hand, Black’s Law Dictionary 7th Edition defines “crime” as “a social harm that the law makes punishable” the breach of a legal duty treated as the subject-matter of a criminal proceeding”.

From the two definitions above, one connecting thread flows all through: crime connotes that act or omission committed or made against the society. “Prevention,” on the other hand, according to Chambers dictionary, means the action of preventing: avoidance or preclusion of something by care and forethought: an anticipation or premonition: an obstruction.

From the definitions proffered above, we can safely regard the crime prevention as the act to avoiding or precluding from occurring that deplorable act or omission that the society makes illegal and/ or unlawful.

Viewed from any vantage point, the duty of crime prevention imposed on the police by the law of the land is, to say the least, onerous. And it is my humble view that for the police to perform this all-important duty efficiently, effectively, creditably and admirably, the total support of the society or community is a sine qua non.

Prevention and detection of crime

We continue the examination of the twin-duty of crime prevention and detection imposed on the police by the law of the land. This twin duty, we would recollect, still remains the first duty of the police according to the provisions of Section 4 of Police Act quoted earlier on.

Just as I did earlier regarding crime prevention, I will endeavour to give a brief textual and ordinary meaning of crime detection before a detailed analysis of the duty as a whole is embarked upon.

The authors of Black’s Law Dictionary (Seventh Edition) did a wonderful work on “detection vis-à-vis crime”. According to them:

“Detection: The act of discovering or revealing something that was hidden, especially to solve a crime. There is a clear distinction between inducing a person to do an unlawful act and setting a trap to catch him in the execution of a criminal plan of his own conception.

There is also a distinction between the terms “detection” and “entrapment” as applied to the activities of law enforcement officers. Legitimate detection of crime occurs when officers test a suspected person by offering him an opportunity to transgress the law in such manner as is usual in the activity alleged to be unlawful. On the other hand, officers induce a person to violate the law when he would not otherwise do so”.

Suffice is to say although the above quoted submissions of the authors of Black’s Law Dictionary is self-explanatory and go beyond mere definition of crime, the reader is nonetheless afforded an opportunity to be appraised with another method called entrapment.

From the totality of the explanations given above, we can conveniently refer to crime detection as that statutorily imposed duty whereby the law-enforcement agents (police officers) discover or get revealed that hidden act or omission constituting crime. And all procedures involve the testing of suspected person (usually called “a suspect”) by affording him or her an opportunity to break the law in such a way that the unlawful act or omission would be in the ordinary course of events. Whichever way one views it, it is evident that the concept of crime detection entails more efforts, pragmatic and higher level of professionalism than that of crime prevention.

Having gone through the preliminaries of the onerous twin-duty of crime prevention and detection, the question that needs be asked is how far the police have been able to discharge this duty against the backdrop of the extremely limited resources of the police in terms of fund, personnel, equipment, etc.

It is common knowledge that Nigeria has of late become a crime-infested country. If anything, the duty of crime prevention and detection has been made more herculean. It has become, for the police, an energy-sapping exercise.


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