The "Working in Ghana" Project

Police Officer

[Mr. Donkor holds the junior rank of constable in the Ghana Police Service. He has been with the Service for four years. Before that he engaged in farming and in trading. He is in his early thirties, and has completed secondary school, form five (ordinary level). Mr. Donkor and his current wife have no children, but he has three daughters and a son from a previous marriage. He lives with the children and his present wife in Accra. His wife operates an attractive hair dressing salon. They plan a Christian wedding later this year. Stephen Obiri-Yeboah conducted this interview in the Twi language at a drinking bar.]

I work as an officer in the Ghana Police Service. The Service's sole aim is to maintain peace and order in the country.

Previously there weren't any formal qualifications for junior officers like constables, but now the basic qualification is the General Certificate of Education--ordinary level. An exception is sportsmen and women, who are employed with the Middle School Leaving Certificate. Presently, for a senior officers post, one has to complete university or its equivalent. People from the polytechnic and advanced level institutions occupy the rank of sergeant and other higher posts within the junior officers' rank.

Officers in the police service are subjected to six months' intensive training at the Police College in Accra. The classes concern police duties and how to handle and sometimes to fix weapons. There are also courses in physical education. The officer is expected to do well before finally receiving a number showing that he is a real policeman and hence a peace officer.

After completing my ordinary level of the G.C.E., I came into contact with a police officer who later on became my father-in-law. I even had a child with his daughter. He kept advising me to join the police service because he said I had the heart and the courage for the job. When he was promoted and transferred to Accra, I took that as an opportunity and also came. My father-in-law helped me when the police were recruiting new officers some months later. I passed the interview and also did very well during the training period.

After that I was retained in Accra and attached to the Motor Traffic Unit of the Ghana Police Service. I then attended a course pertaining to the transport sector, in which I performed creditably. I'm now an officer in the traffic unit.

Like any other police officer, I arrest criminals as well as discourage violence in the country. It is my duty to see to it that crimes such as stealing, murdering, armed robbery, smuggling, smoking of Indian hemp (marijuana) and using other illegal drugs are all discouraged in the society.

It can be very risky to deal with such criminals. There are some specially trained police officers, called the striking force, who accompany us when necessary. Sometimes it becomes necessary to shoot guns before the criminals are brought under control.

I also work to control people who embark on demonstrations and when the need arises disperse them with tear gas and rubber bullets, which are not harmful. Violence brings about political instability and as a result we try as much as possible to stop people who embark on violent demonstrations. The law requires that all demonstrators obtain permits from the police; this is a way of inviting the police to come around and oversee the whole process. Demonstrators who don't obtain police permits are considered to be organizing violence in the country and hence we arrest them.

(He spent some time addressing the unfortunate incidents that took place on the campus of the University of Ghana, in which students were injured by police. He felt it was a big mistake for live bullets which are meant for criminals like armed robbers to be directed on unarmed students embarking on a peaceful demonstration. He even stated that proper action should be taken against the police officers who used excessive force.)

I also arrest people who fight in the society. Fighting is a violent means of settling disputes and hence is an offense. Sometimes I accompany people, mostly business men and women, to their customers who owe them some amount of money on credit purchases. This behavior is to some extent outside our official duties because if someone fails to settle a debt at the stipulated time, a complaint should be lodged at the police station for the person to be arrested and prosecuted at the court. However, I do it to stop the arrest. Luckily enough I have succeeded in all the attempts made, and I enjoy some cedis as a form of thanks for my efforts.

I also go on patrol when a report is made about criminal activities in an area. For instance, if armed robbers give notice to someone about a planned operation in a house or store, some striking force members accompany us to patrol the area and, if necessary, attack.

I also work to protect important personalities like the president or a minister of state during special occasions. I have served as a guard for President Rawlings during an official celebration.

I once also worked at a bank for some few weeks when a colleague was sick. At the bank, we maintain peace and order there so that the officials can have a peaceful atmosphere to compute their accounts. We also protect them from armed robbers and other criminal activities at the bank's compound.

At the Motor and Traffic Unit I work to maintain order on the road. I check all driving papers like licenses, road worthiness, and insurance. It is assumed that all good vehicles and qualified drivers have got their papers in perfect order. On the road, we work in a group. We sometimes carry with us equipment to check over-speeding. Overloading as well as bad parking are offenses on the road. Drivers who park in no parking zones are arrested.

We also arrest drivers of vehicles with unauthorized registration numbers if they do not have special papers permitting them to drive. Our work is not restricted to commercial vehicles alone; it also includes private cars. I like checking private vehicles more than the commercial ones because in Ghana almost all the rich men, who do most of the smuggling, ride in their vehicles. It is only the poor who use commercial vehicles.

All offenders are arrested and sent to court for the appropriate fines to be imposed on them. The amount of the fine depends on the nature of their offense and sometimes also the way the offender defends himself.

I sometimes work with the accident unit of the Motor and Traffic Unit. Somebody may hit his car against another and drive away. After receiving the complaints with the necessary information about the offenders' vehicle, like registration number and the type of vehicle, I go around leaving notices at various police stations, check points and with other necessary personalities, mostly commercial drivers. Doing this makes it become easy to arrest the offender.

I feel proud to belong to such a constructive service in Ghana. Those who understand and obey the rules and laws in the country are our friends. However, people say that it is not advisable to take a policeman as a friend because he gives them no consideration when they are offenders. People classify us as ungrateful and hence shun our company. Friends and sometimes relatives don't share ideas with us because they think that we can gather their words together and level some allegations against them.

Some people--mostly students--don't respect us at all. They call us some names like "kotikoti" (a local name for the baton) "Master Master" and so on. They say that we just obey instructions in performing our duties and so call us "Yes Sir Yes Sir" and many other names.

I become very sad and even feel like vacating my job when I hear these un-humanitarian comments. I have therefore advised my children not to join any of the forces be it army, police, prisons and so on. When I am off duty, I scarcely put on my uniform so that I can mingle with the civilians at various playing grounds. To maintain respect in my town also, I have started attending most of their fund raising activities.

Our working conditions are in line with the other security officers. We run in shifts which are on a day and night basis. But the work of the Motor Traffic Unit is such that we normally have a majority of the officers working during the day.

Only a few officers--mostly those of junior rank--go on night duty. Since I started working with the accident unit, I work mostly during the day. It is not interesting to go on night duty. Also, night duty is very dangerous as you can be attacked by armed robbers who operate mostly at night. My place of residence is also not conducive to leaving my wife and the children alone in the house. At night I also need to watch the kiosk where my wife has her hair salon.

I have been trained how to handle a variety of arms ranging from knives to machine guns. The weapons, coupled with our uniforms, puts fear into the people we come into contact with. We police are so good in handling arms that there is no significant gap between the military and the police. I even suggest that the government should increase the number of police in the peacekeeping operations outside the country. I have actually got skills to defend myself ranging from how to dodge some specific bullets to how disarm opponents. I also know the most sensitive parts of the human body where a blow will render the opponent useless and defenseless. Hence whether there are arms or not, I can work effectively, especially when I am holding a baton.

In spite of some minor misunderstandings within the individuals which of course is part of every social order, we are united strongly. If one is attached, all of us will rush in to defend and counter-attack when necessary. I am free (on good terms) with all the workers (officers), especially those in the junior ranks.

The highest ranked person in our office is the assistant superintendent of police. He completed University some years ago, but came to the Police Service only last year. Hence doesn't know most of the practical aspects of the accident section. He normally consults me for assistance. He has therefore turned to like me most and even takes his lunch with me.

Our pay is not encouraging at all. Taking into account the risks we face, the pay is not appropriate. But the job is such that we get gifts from drivers and other people who demand our services. The work of the police is not always to arrest but also to give advice. When offenders are advised against some offenses when they expect arrest, they end up presenting gifts to us. More gifts are presented on the road than in any other sector of the unit.

I enjoy an annual leave of twenty-eight working days as well as casual leave. If any of my children or my wife or I should fall sick, we are entitled to free medical care at the Ghana Police Hospital. All of these expenses are refunded but expenses from non-government hospitals are not. Sick leave depends on a doctor's recommendation.

All officers have rooms at the police resident quarters. Junior officers are given single rooms with kitchens while senior officers have double rooms and sometimes flats.

The current rate of promotion is not encouraging at all. In spite of the many courses we attend, we are still at the lowest rank. It is rumored that unless one pays some cedis, he/she will not be promoted as expected.

In general, though, the job is good. It has its side effects on the social life. The frequent training keeps me continuously strong and healthy.