JUSTIN Mulenga, 46 year-old cop of Kitwe, who recently obtained a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice epitomises success of police reforms.
Earlier in his career, Mulenga (no relationship at all with the writer), a father of three with 23 years of service in police, was infatuated with reading for a degree in criminal justice. However, the demand of work and family proved too onerous until in 2014 when he enrolled with University of Africa (UoA), a higher education open and distance learning (ODL) institution. The achievement, that also earned him top student position in the class of 2019 of the university and cash of K7,500, easily qualified him as the face of positive dynamics taking place in the police service as reform interventions of making it professional took root.
With his qualification, Mulenga would be a desirable cop to deal with as a complainant or suspect.
Anecdotally, the writer remembers the era when your mere stating of your human rights as a complainant or suspect would without fail earn you a first class beating, and possibly a few nights in the police cell regardless of the merits or demerits of your case. Such was the level of police brutality. This promoted advocacy by civil society and other stakeholders for implementation of police reforms to be in tune with plural politics that had been re-introduced in1990 after nearly three decades of one party state Therefore, it was more comforting when cops such as Mulenga demonstrate passion for upholding professionalism. At the risk of sounding cynical or perceived to trivialising current criticisms of the conduct of police, it is definitely day and night when contrasted to the previous years. “As you may know criminal justice degrees focus on the criminal justice system, especially, the functions of law enforcement and corrections.
“ Therefore, I’m well equipped to put into practice police reform interventions that reflect the upholding of human rights while ensuring that there was effective policing and greater cooperation between us and the members of the public,” says Mulenga.
He spoke in his capacity the overall best student in the class of 2019 during the UoA’s 6th graduation ceremony recently held in Lusaka. Mulenga says criminal justice was broadly aimed at creating robust internal and external checks and balances of policing, ensuring police carried out their duties properly and were held accountable if they failed to do so. According to him, this ensured upholding of police integrity and deterred misconduct, a key element in enhancing public confidence and cooperation with the police. “This prevents police from misusing their powers and abusing their rights and privileges. In a lot of ways it ensures that police functions are conducted in a professional way, and just like in the corporate world, “Their actions and operations need to be regularly reviewed and evaluated by a multiple of stakeholders such as the police command, parliament, the judiciary, civil society and independent oversight bodies such as human rights commission,” says Mulenga Of particular relevance of the ongoing police service reforms to the current situation was the need for police to be the facilitators of the creation of space for dialogue and understanding among groups with competing and sometimes divergent interest. In a broader context, that was what had initially prompted advocacy work by NGOs coupled by other stakeholders to provide direction for police reforms that started in 1995. It was paramount that Zambia, as a member of the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU), both of which acknowledge the right to life and outlawed torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treat of community members, had a professional and human rights orientated police service. Matter of fact the UN provided guidelines related to police reforms in democracies. These were published in handbook form in 2011. The handbook stresses legislation must be in line with international human rights law. Further, it urged adequate police training, both basic and ongoing. Other elements of the handbook included fair and effective procedures and policies on how to deal with police misconduct, including both disciplinary and criminal codes, adequate investigative capacity, procedures for punishment and appeal procedures. Therefore, reduction of human rights abuses, crime and improvement of public confidence in policing were key determinants of how success of police reforms would look like. More educated people in the realm of criminal justice such as Mulenga would have a positive bearing on successfully driving through the reforms. Consistent with the desire to improve police/public cooperation and partnership, Zambia Police Force changed its name to ‘Zambia Police Service’ and adopt the ‘Community-based Policing’ model of law enforcement as part of its image and emphasise its new policing strategy. However, the sweeping changes required a re-orientation of skills. This gave rise to the significant challenge of equipping the existing and new members of the police service with the necessarily skills while ensuring minimal disruption to day-to-day operations. Open and distance learning (ODL) flexibility and convenience was identified as a realistic path to accelerate the up-skilling of the existing members of the police service. “It would not have been possible for money to go full-time and obtain a degree because of the demands of work and family,” Mulenga says. He was quick to point out the police reforms being pursued were revolutionary in nature, and as such required rapid results. He says higher education in the ranks was one way of rapidly implementing the well-intended police reforms. As a beneficiary of the support inspector general of police, Kakoma Kanganja provided to the men and women in uniform to upgrade their academic qualification, Mulenga encouraged serving officers to take advantage of higher education learning while they retained their full-time jobs.
“There is absolutely no excuse now why one should remain with the same academic qualifications they had when they joined the police services. I feel happy knowing the support our inspector-general Kakoma Kanganja has rendered to me and other officers before me and those following n my footsteps,” he says