THE police shoot to kill policy is ill-conceived and should be revised because there are laws to deal with criminals rather than allow the law enforcement agents to gun-down citizens, security experts have said.
While police say they adopted the strategy to weed out dangerous armed robbers mainly in Bulawayo and Harare, the policy has seen innocent civilians losing lives.
Two months ago, Bulawayo police fatally shot Fletcher Tavengwa and injured his friend Lewis Sanyanga whom they suspected to be armed robbers. Three weeks after that incident they shot and killed state security agent Trymore Khosa at a Chicken Inn outlet.
The Khosa killing sparked bad relations between the police and the Central Intelligence Organisation while residents criticised the police for slaying Tavengwa.
Police have also shot dead several armed robbers although armed robbery cases remain rampant, with businesspeople continuing to lose huge amounts of cash as well as goods.
Security experts say the shoot to kill policy is normally adopted either in a war-torn country or where outlaws like drug trafficking lords do not hesitate to fight back the police.
Last month, police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri said they would kill suspected armed robbers. He was reacting to an incident in Bulawayo where armed robbers shot dead a top cop Lawrence Chatikobo.
Police sources in Bulawayo told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that Chatikobo was allegedly killed in a revenge mission by a gang sympathetic to the tragic death of Tavengwa and Khosa.
Former Home Affairs mnister Dumiso Dabengwa suggested that police adopt a shoot to disarm policy rather than killing people
He warned that armed robbers could not be treated with kids’ gloves but killing the criminals who did not refuse to surrender their firearms was wrong.
“Police must shoot the armed robbers in the leg or arms to disarm or disable them. It’s not right to kill because it gives a perception that there is no respect for human life,” said Dabengwa.
He said the police should apologise for killing innocent civilians who were not a threat to the society.
Former police commander in Harare and Masvingo, Emmanuel Chimwanda, said the shoot to kill policy was not favourable in Zimbabwe where a peaceful environment is prevailing. He accused the police of recklessness that has resulted in the death of innocent citizens.
“The shoot to kill strategy can be entertained in a state which is in a war,” Chimwanda said. “That policy is good for countries like Colombia and Somalia where statistics show that police have been attacked,” he said . “We have laws to deal with criminals in Zimbabwe, that’s why we don’t need police shooting citizens unless or if they are under attack.”
But police spokesman Andrew Phiri defended the strategy saying the police would use maximum force to deal with armed robbers.
“We are doing all we can to protect the lives of citizens,” he said.
After the death of Chatikobo, Chihuri said: “The ZRP will not stand akimbo and watch innocent citizens of this country, let alone police officers, being decimated by uncouth criminals. To this end, all unscrupulous elements, be they armed robbers, carjackers and others of that ilk, should be warned that the ZRP shall not hesitate to shoot to kill any such persons. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”
Chimwanda, however, said it was necessary for the police to ensure they are targeting the right suspects before firing guns.
Rape and robbery cases, he said, did not require the police to kill the suspects but in cases where the law enforcement agents needed to protect the public from notorious gangs’ attacks.
Chimwanda said the question on many minds is why the police are shooting innocent civilians instead of dealing with dangerous criminals roaming the streets.
He said the policy should be revoked before many fall victim to the “ill-conceived” strategy. Only a few people own firearms due to the stringent laws that allow Zimbabweans to obtain guns.
Police have asked residents to surrender unlicensed and malfunctioning guns to police stations while those with licensed guns have to report them to the police who claim to be compiling a new database of firearms in the public domain.
In Bulawayo, heavily armed police are patrolling the streets to fight the armed robbers but residents complain of harassment and victimisation. Police declared an unofficial curfew in Bulawayo following the killing of Chatikobo by suspected armed robbers at a nightspot.
“Police should use minimum force to deal with citizens and let the law take its course rather than go on a mission of killing Zimbabweans,” said Chimwanda, who was dismissed by Chihuri in September 2002 under unclear circumstances.
Like South Africa, Zimbabwe has become a haven of violent crime since the introduction of multi-currencies in February last year. A week hardly passes without an incident of armed robbery in major cities targeting banks as well as top businessmen.
Some of the prominent robbery cases include Barclays Bank heist in Bulawayo last year after robbers got away with US$50 000, R126 000 and 500 pounds, and Kingdom Bank robbery in Graniteside in Harare where they stole US$10 200.