Sweeping Operations in Malawi

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Criminal justice institutions and the policies that guide them can be strongly influenced by public attitudes (Halsey & White 2008; Roberts & Hastings 2007). Due primarily to the reactive nature of police work, the police as a public institution rely more heavily on the support and co-operation of the public to achieve success in the performance of their duties than other criminal justice agencies. Similarly, police activities have to be conducted in a manner that amasses public support and safeguards civil rights bearing in mind that an important aspect of the police role is to protect constitutional guarantees of freedom and equality.

Sweeps are well-known tactics for crime prevention worldwide and have not spared Malawi. They are called by different names depending on the purpose and the country operating them. Sweeps are called Sweeping Operations, Operation Chosambava or Operation Dongosolo in Malawi, operation clean sweep in Republic of South Africa and operation Murambatsvina in Zimbabwe.

Sweeps typically refer to coordinated police actions in which they seek out and arrest large numbers of offenders (Scott 2004). The Malawi Police Service’s Strategic Development Plan July 2012 to June 2017 incorporates sweeping operations among its activities designed for crime prevention. In response to the Strategic Development Plan, NkhataBay police station like other police stations in Malawi put much effort on sweeping operations as a tactic for combating crime and disorders within its jurisdiction.

The police need to be concerned about how they are viewed by the public, because they are public servants (Fleek and Newman 1969; Percy 1986). This concern with cooperation develops from the recognition that effective crime control and disorder management depends on public cooperation with the police (Sampson at el 1997). As a consequence, understanding how people respond to different potential mechanisms of social control is important to policy makers, legal scholars, and social scientists (Tyler 1990; Tyler & Huo 2002). It is therefore paramount to assess the attitudes of the public towards the police sweeping operations at NkhataBay boma.

  1. Background

The recognition of the importance of the relationship between the public and the police toward building police legitimacy has already spawned a trend toward community-oriented policing (Kelling & Moore 1988; Friedman 1992; Skogan et al. 1999; Skolnick & Fyfe 1993). The police have learned that they cannot function effectively without public support, and they are building policing strategies designed to build such support. Traditionally, crime prevention and control were thought to be achieved through the threat of arrest and punishment. Over the past few decades, it has become clear that this approach to policing alienated citizens and the police from one another (Reiss 1992; Moore 992). Police could not rely on the public’s support for their efforts, and the public lost faith in the ability of the police to provide safety. By then, police strategies for combating crime were associated with human rights violations such as unlawful arrests and detentions of suspected criminals among others.

After the Second World War, human rights law was instituted under the United Nation Charter. The establishment of the modern human rights law has been attributed to the gross violations of human rights by Hitler’s regime in Germany, and the realization that these could have been prevented had there been an effective international system for protecting human rights. This was followed by the conclusion of a number of important human rights treaties and the demise of colonization during the 1950s, 1960, and 1970s. By its very nature, colonialism amounted to a denial of human rights (Police Source Book on Human Rights p 8). People were subjected to various forms of violations by the ruling regime without any legal protection and the laws were made to suppress the citizenry.

In June 1994, after multiparty general election, Malawi was transformed into a democratic state. According to section 5 of the constitution of Malawi, this also changed the mandate order from one of parliamentary to constitutional supremacy. This constitutional provision clearly states that all action of the Government, including those of police have to be in compliance with the constitution of Malawi. Consequently, the mandate, activities, responsibilities and obligation of the Malawi Police had to be reviewed and changed in order to accommodate the challenges of human rights. Furthermore, all police officials are obliged to work in accordance with Chapter IV of the Constitution which emphases on the respect of human rights.

Various Medias have been condemning sweeping operations for violating human rights. On 6 July 2014 Malawi celebrated 50 years of independence from British rule. Ironically, in the two weeks leading up to this momentous occasion, the Malawi Police Service used laws dating from colonial rule to, in the words of a police spokesperson, “make sure preparations for the celebrations are smooth”. Newspapers reported the use of sweeping exercises to arrest at least 303 persons in Lilongwe, 71 persons in the southern region and 111 persons in the northern region in preparation for the Independence Day celebrations. The use of sweeping exercises to effect arrests has the potential to violate a range of human rights and requires some interrogation (Meerkotter 2014). It is from this background that the researcher wants to assess public attitudes towards police sweeping operations.

Empirical researches demonstrate that various studies have analyzed the impact of police sweeping operations on the political and economic point of view. Michael and Masunungure 2006 conducted a national survey in Zimbabwe to analyze the popular reactions of ordinary Zimbabweans towards Operation Murambatsvina (OM) whereby On May 17, 2005, contingents of Zimbabwe Republic Police swooped down on street vendors who were plying their trade on the streets, squares and corners of Harare’s central business district. They confiscated or destroyed the goods on sale including food, flowers, clothes, shoes, and curios, arrested the traders, and assaulted anyone who resisted. The campaign against informal trade soon spread to suburban flea markets in Harare’s elite northern suburbs and into the sprawling, southern “high density areas,” where the taxi operators who sustain the commuter transport system were prevented from purchasing scarce fuel on the black market.

The sample covered both urban and rural segments in all ten administrative provinces with probability proportional to population size. It was divided into two parts: a representative main sample of 1096 persons randomly selected via a multistage, clustered formula; and a purposive sub-sample of 104 persons known to have been displaced by Operation Murambatsvina and living in the open or in transit camps. By contrast, almost seven out of ten Zimbabweans consider that “the government’s cleanup campaign was a bad thing that caused unnecessary hardship and violated people’s human rights”. This research was conducted national wide. It would be argued that it had no enough time and resources to get valid data from the all perspectives.

Riley R. 2006 conducted a research to analyse the factors that created the conditions for Operation Dongosolo and the political motivations behind the government’s actions in the city of Blantyre. The study focused on the consequences for urban food security of street vendor evictions. The study used a qualitative research approach draw from the interactions in the field through in-depth interviews, group participative diagramming sessions, observation of markets and group interviews with community based organisations. The study found that informal vending is one of the few viable livelihood options available to many people who lack the education, skills and social networks to find employment in the formal sector. Therefore Vendors generally opposed Operation Dongosolo and the manner of its implementation. However the data collection tool used in this study such as interviews and observations are subjective and bias in nature.

Stockdale and Gresham 1998 conducted a research to examine how far the Metropolitan Police Service’s strategy for tackling street robbery, Operation Eagle Eye, achieves its aims of improving performance against street robbery and increasing the detection rate. The research aims to assess the effects of the strategies on performance, process, working practices and service delivery and to identify implications for good practice. The research draws on a range of data sources: interviews with a structured sample of officers of all ranks in the participating forces; interviews with community representatives in London and the West Midlands; examination of relevant documentation supplied by the forces; analysis of data relating to recorded crime and detections. Major findings ware that notwithstanding the difficulties of isolating factors associated with changes in crime levels, Operation Eagle Eye did appear to have made a contribution in its initial stages to controlling street robbery. However, there were indications that street robbery was again rising in the Metropolitan Police District.

Unlike the above studies which focused on the internal matters of police sweeping operation, the upcoming study will focus on public views towards such operations. Furthermore the above researches used interviews, focus groups and observations which are deemed to be subjective in nature and give too much scope for the researcher to influence interviewee’s response via their questioning style or body language (ibid). The future research will fill the literature gaps by combine both interviews and questionnaires in data collection to overcome the bias.