When the Namibian Police Force goes shopping

Tuhafeni Helao

In a literal sense, the word ‘shopping’ means to buy or procure something needed to keep the person or organisation going. Shopping signifies a practical procurement of essential items, whether groceries or other commodities, necessary to sustain the household or organisation. Essentially, meticulous shopping must be made within the means and capabilities of the household livelihood or organisation operations.

However, before deciding on ‘shopping list’ it is imperative to determine the available budget against the items to be bought or procured, and the necessity of such items in the household or organisational context. This is the general theory of effective and prudent shopping in any society.

The adage ‘shopping’ in this context is applied as a metaphor to narrate how the Namibian Police Force has been procuring its resources, information and equipment since its inception in 1990. Of particular importance is the manner the police has been recruiting police officers, and the quality of those recruited in terms of appealing to society’s policing expectations and needs.

Never before has the police focused on recruiting tertiary graduates and high school-leavers who have done exceptionally very in their grade 12 final exams. In the past, recruitment has been conducted on the understanding that the Namibian Police Force, like many other police organisations around the globe, is not considered as the first choice employment by many. Therefore, recruiting or shopping college graduates as cadet constables has been a challenge to the Namibian Police Force.

In this sense, the recently graduated 685 cadet constables at Ruben Danger Ashipala Police College in Ondangwa demonstrates a complete police policy shift in terms of system and operational thinking and focus. It represents a ‘surprise shopping list’ probably informed by the constant outcry of perceived poor police service and unprofessional way in which policing is conducted in the country.

Therefore, continuous ‘shopping’ in this manner could go a long way in addressing various shortcomings experienced by the Namibian Police Force in its attempt to realise policing objectives, safety and security governance to make society safer. Policing literature suggests that the manner the police compile its ‘shopping list’ portrays its relevance and future orientation. It indicates the gist and seriousness the police leadership attached on contemporary policing. In this spirit, the ‘shopping list’ must embody a properly crafted strategy to reflect a well-calculated vision, mission and values of the police organisation.

The ‘shopping list’ epitomises the police organisational culture and subculture, attitudes, behaviours, ethics, integrity and equally importantly what the Namibian Police Force wishes to achieve going into the future. The logical insinuation here is whether the recently graduated police cohort will live up to the above professional expectations. This is for the policed to appraise going forward.

Modern policing calls for the Namibian Police Force to build internal capacity to effectively and comprehensively interact with the external environment, be it community members, the business community or international community. Similarly, crime prevention, criminal cases investigation, police intelligence gathering and analysis, problem-solving policing, gender-based violence, etc. require literacy yet conversant and well-grounded police officers to match up to the expectations and demands of the general public…the policed.

The deliberate selection, recruitment and appointment of 685 police officers with university qualifications signify a well-calculated move by the Namibian Police Force. It shows that despite some criticism levelled against the police in terms of poor and unprofessional service, the Namibian Police Force can step up its efforts to improve policing service in society. Fundamentally, what this police cohort have learned and exposed to during basic training are critical to their performance going forward.

The assumption is that employees who possess scholarly acumen are beneficial to the organisation because they can quickly adapt to the working environment and learn profusely within a very short time, making it possible for the organisation to reap the benefits in a shortest possible time.

In contrast to the above, ‘shopping the right items’ may not necessarily mean that the Namibian Police Force will become effective from the word go. It is neither a guarantee that policing will improve to satisfy community needs nor a mechanised professional approach to policing. If loosely put, it may imply that when you buy food you still need to have the best chef to prepare such food into a sought-after delicacy.

The newly graduated police officers still need on-the-job training and mentoring to be moulded into adept police officers, capable of addressing contemporary policing issues. Therefore, this presents an added responsibility and possibly a huge challenge to the Namibian Police Force to demonstrate that by appointing police officers with college qualifications, policing is indeed self-assured to become a preferred public good.

Essentially, the new police cohort place police leadership to the test to exhibit that good policing and effective security governance will indeed be realised. Yes, a 12-month basic training is unprecedented in the Namibian Police Force history and might have created graduates with coherent and logical knowledge, skills and understanding of contemporary policing issues. However, before we get excited and assumed that this is the best ‘police shopping list’ ever which can shape the future of policing in Namibia, the following suppositions cannot be ignored:

– The practice of policing and its intended impact on society are informed by various factors of which human capital is fundamental to inclusive policing and security governance. However, identifying, selecting and appointing police officers with tertiary education is neither a guarantee of effective and efficient delivery of police service in society nor an end in itself. Therefore, without further mentorship, direction and guidance by police leadership, this police cohort may not make any impact at the regions, police stations and offices where they have been assigned.

– Conscientious deployment of this police cohort is essential to showcase their worth, knowledge, skills and readiness to serve the Namibian nation. Many a time the police fails in their tasks due to the manner police officers have been deployed. Correct deployment is a tool for quality policing. It is presumed that this police cohort’s individual skills and competencies have been identified and evaluated during the basic training to facilitate efficacious deployment. Such exercise allows for accurate and objective deployment. Gone are the days when police officers were deployed just for the sake of deployment.

– Continuous training and development (on-the-job training) are necessary to develop police officers skills and competences in various policing areas and to enhance their capacity to advance professional policing. The 12-month basic training they have undergone laid the foundation and made it easier for future training, learning and development.

A professional police officer learns by doing the job, acquires knowledge and skills through others especially in the same working environment, and develop through mentoring and guidance by organisational leadership. In this point, police leadership would play a major role in shaping this police cohort attentiveness and interest in policing to identify themselves with the Namibian Police Force as their organisation at this early stage of their policing career.

– Retention of this police cohort in the Namibian Police Force is another key factor to sustainable policing. This expensive ‘shopping list’ represents a paradigm shift in an attempt to make policing relevant to society, thereby, motivating and encouraging them to make policing their career cannot be overemphasised. It should be understood that police basic training is a very expensive undertaking to which organisations commit a substantial amount of resources to successfully train police officers.

The training imparts knowledge, skills and competences in an employee for one purpose only, and that is to ensure that upon successful completion of training the employee can contribute to organisational objectives. In sum, the employee is expected to plough back into the organisation the knowledge, skills and competences acquired. However, policing literature highlighted the challenge faced police leadership in retaining college graduates in the organisation. Therefore, police leadership focus should aim at motivating this newly recruited cohort to enhance their desire to embrace policing as a unique profession.

The questions, however, are how would the police leadership motivate this cohort and retain it in the police organisation? What incentives should be employed to avoid the Namibian Police Force being used as a springboard to other professions? A careful deployment is the best ingredient to job satisfaction and retention. A happy police officer stays longer and grow with the organisation and eventually develop into a policing expert.

– Finally, sustaining the current recruitment precedent is advantageous to future policing. Continuing with similar ‘shopping lists’ may require revisiting the organisational recruitment policy. As the saying goes “if you want to have the best, you must be prepared to sustain and incentivise them’. Yes, the Namibian Police Force is comparable in SADC in terms of motivational incentives, however, to continue attracting college graduates to join the police at cadet constables level, particularly beyond the current economic meltdown, would require systematic approach and recruitment policy inquiry.

Tuhafeni Helao (DPA) teaches criminal justice in the Department of Social Sciences at NUST. This is his personal view

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