I’ve been thinking about this for a while but haven’t had the chance to sit down and write a piece on it. But I got inspired to write down my thoughts.
I had a little discussion with Edem Kumodzi (@edemkumodzi) on twitter last night. We were talking about a comment that the former president of Ghana (John Mahama) made concerning bribery with police on our streets. The president made a comment that maybe we shouldn’t be carrying lots of cash in our wallets and instead carry debit cards. Apparently, his comment was made when he was asked about the issue involving police officers taking bribes.
First of all, that is not going to do much because we’re a society which still relies heavily on cash transactions and so having debit/ATM cards instead of cash is not likely to happen anytime soon unless the government is really serious of moving us more quickly into a cashless society.
Edem thought if we reduced the interaction with the police by enforcing technology such as camera readers and traffic lights with cameras to catch people who disobey traffic rules, it would be a better solution.
Naturally, because I’m a tech nerd, I agree with automating everything. But that would require a lot of cash and infrastructure to build that particular system.
But the matter still remains: Police still take money from people on the streets and are not held accountable for their actions.
So I proposed another solution: Body Cameras
Big Brother: Watching The Watchmen
In 2013, it was reported that the police were given badges which were to have special identity numbers on them. (Daily Graphic). The aim of this was for the public to report officers who were found to be engaging in improper behavior. But how close do citizens really get to police officers to ask for their badge numbers or even their names? I’m not sure how direct Ghanaians are when it comes to confronting authority figures but I don’t think that will help much.
In the US, there seems to be increasing number of police officers sporting body cameras. This is mostly because there seems to be widespread issues of police officers inappropriately using their firearms on citizens. If you haven’t heard about #BlackLivesMatter, I suggest you read about that to see why there’s a lot of pressure on police departments in the US to supply their officers with body cameras.
In the UK, body cameras are basically mandatory and they seem to working quite well.
Interestingly enough, some reports say that use of body cameras actually make police officers more accountable. It’s not foolproof but it seems to be doing something when it comes to accountability.
If an officer knows that his or her activities can be recorded and later viewed by his superiors, he has some incentive to follow proper procedures and do the right thing. The same effect happens if a citizen knows an officer is wearing a body camera. If you did something wrong and an officer’s body camera records it, it’s going to be hard to defend your actions.
If body cameras seem to be having an effect in the US and in other places like the UK, can that same effect happen in Ghana?
Gaming The System: Can Body Cameras Realistically Be Implemented?
I’ve reviewed a lot of IT systems that are supposed to be implemented in Ghana. On paper, the systems which are supposed to solve major problems and help citizens in their day to day activities look very promising. But in reality, they don’t seem to be working as they should.
Well, think about it: If a system is supposed to be put in place which would cut off your personal revenue supply, would you want that system to be successfully implemented?
That’s the problem we have right now with IT projects in Ghana. “Some” people don’t want these systems to work.
The Drivers Vehicle and Licensing Authority (DVLA) is supposed to have a website where people can go and pay for some specific services.
Guess what? It doesn’t work. It doesn’t even seem the people behind it are concerned enough to fix it to be top notch.
There’s a lot of other projects I could name but maybe I’ll write another post of failed past projects in Ghana.
So the main question when it comes to implementation: Will a body camera system for police officers in Ghana work?
Seriously, I think this program could help. But how willing are the Police Ghana to implement and enforce this?
Body Cameras aren’t really that much of a big deal in terms of advanced technology. They’re just devices with little cameras capable of recording hours of video depending on the size of the SD card inserted in them (32GB and 64GB). They record video and sometimes audio and be operate for hours on a single battery charge. They can be easily strapped to an officer. They just hit record and everything is automatic. So how can these body cameras be enforced?
Policy, Bureaucracy & Accountability
So if the Ghana police implemented a body camera program, how would it work? I think it’s quite simple. Officers who manage traffic and operate at night should be issued with body cameras to wear in the field. After their shifts, their video footage can be reviewed. If an officer doesn’t turn on his camera, he/she can be queried. Also, if a citizen says he or she had to give a bribe to an officer, superiors can check who was assigned on that citizen’s route and review the body camera footage of the officers operating that area.
Going beyond bribes, a body camera program can also help in “policing” the police. There was a case where an officer fired at suspects at a motorbike. It was later found out there were innocent bike riders (PulseGH). But the damage was done. Body camera footage could have help to uncover the story in better detail.
Are the Ghana Police willing to try out this experiment? Of course, there’s going to be a lot of backend stuff such as logistics, funding and all that bureaucratic stuff. But if this is actually done and works, there’s a great possibility that the public trust in the police can be increased. If the police are on their best behavior and the citizens know that the police are being watched, there could be a positive effect.
Sometimes you have to watch the watchmen. In today’s world, technology can help to do that.