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Crime shock

By Haggai Matsiko

Why murder, rape, extortion, carjacking, robbery are on the rise

Hardcore crime is on the increase, according to statistics from the Criminal Investigations Department.

Apart from security, experts are concerned that despite police’s increased funding and recruitment over the years—hitting the mark of an over 40,000 strong force and demanding about Shs 600 billion for its budget this year—the force is struggling with crime. The Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area, which covers Kampala district, parts of Mukono and Wakiso districts, is the most hit.


In major incident, Martin Oja, a Forex dealer was shot in the arm and about Shs 300 million robbed from him. Margaret Bilavu, a vendor at the scene in the downtown Kampala City Arua Park area was killed in the incident.

In another case, Sheikh AbdukarimSentamu, a renowned Muslim cleric was on March 20 murdered on William Street. A week hardly goes by without police finding a murder victim’s body lying somewhere along the secluded Northern by-pass.

Police recently confirmed a case in which an unidentified body of a Kenyan that was around Kawaala, another Kampala suburb.

On the Easter festive, last month, police found two residents of Namugongo, Catherine Ongira, a housemaid and Rogers Muhindo, a home guard brutally murdered.

Bweyogerere has also in the past few months been dotted with a number of murders with one case involving a New Vision newspaper vendor, another case of murder and the other of a couple torched in Best Hidden Guest House in Kakajjo zone, Bweyogerere, a city suburb.

On March 14, WahyaTahiri, an Ethiopian official was also reportedly murdered at his home in Ntinda allegedly by his house help. The Independent could not confirm whether the suspect was netted.

In Mutungo, Kikuubo businessman, Noah Wilberforce Wamala and his house maid were also murdered at his home on Feb. 3. His widow, Elizabeth KigoziWamala, has raised alarm by writing to the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura exposing how relatives are fighting over the deceased property and how instead of unearthing her husband’s killers, detectives involved are dragging their feet and working around linking her to the murder.

Data obtained exclusively by The Independent shows that murder cases increased from 64 in January to 94 in February and had peaked at 101 by the end of March in Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area.

In the same period murders by mob action doubled from 7 in January to 14 in February

This figure does not include killings in which neither the motive nor perpetrators are known. These unspecified killings increased from 16 in January to 43 in March. The May figures are likely to be higher.

Economic crimes, which include corruption, extortion, and embezzlement, are also increasing. January recorded 778 cases and March 1055 while sex-related crimes increased from 197 to 231 in March and child related crimes from 149 to 276 in February.

Break-in increased from 328 to 520 in March and motor vehicle thefts from 122 to 140 while motorcycle theft jumped from 189 to 410 in March and cash thefts from 314 to 449 and thefts of all kinds from 874 in January to 1186 in March.

In total theft cases jumped from 2148 in January to 2722 in February and to 3117 in March. On the other hand robberies jumped from 218 to 350 and finally 407 cases.

In total, there were 4803 criminal cases in January, of which 534 were prosecuted and 50 convicted. The number went up to 6091 in February with 673 prosecuted and 47 convicted. In March the number had jumped to 6692 with 1288 prosecuted and 94 convicted.

An expert at the CID office said poverty and hard economic conditions are forcing more and more people to devise illegal means of living.

Historically, high spates of crime have been attributed to the low policing capacity. While the United Nations standard ratio of police to the population is 1:500, Uganda’s ratio is 1:1500.

Kampala Metropolitan Police Spokesman, IbinSsenkumbi, said there are periods of “crime shocks”—when crime increases. He attributed the current crime shock on the increasing population.

“As you are aware, the population of Kampala is always growing,” he said in a telephone interview, “and every human being is a potential criminal suspect.”

Ssenkumbi said certain crimes may increase more than others when the force concentrates on one crime and relaxes in another area.

The CID boss, Grace Akullo also recently gave the same explanation to local media in an interview over the wave of murders.

Wrong priorities

The reality, however, is that the police force has been engaged in a massive recruitment, training, and equipping drive that should normally lead to better policing and reduction in crime levels.

From a force of just 27,000 officers and men and women in 2007, the force has swollen to over 40,000. So why have the high police numbers not led to lower crimes?

Part of the reason could be that since the February 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections, the police’s role appears to have shifted from hunting criminals to hunting opposition politicians. The force’s prime priority has shifted to quelling riots as reflected in the police’s expenditure trends. In the last financial year, police almost spent more than half of its entire Shs 309 billion budget on quelling riots.

It spent Shs 125.7 billion on anti-riot gear and tear gas, on investigations and for emergency response, and on motorised and foot police patrols. Of the Shs 125 billion, Shs 19.4 billion was switched from the Anti-Stock Theft Unit (ASTU) to fighting riots.

The money had been intended to sensitise people about the disarmament exercise in Karamoja and neighbouring areas. Part of the reason gun related crimes are increasing, experts say, is proliferation of illegal guns and Karamoja is a major conduit of these.

The force’s efforts at fighting crime, like community policing, have not been as fruitful despite hefty funds being pumped in. Last year for instance, Shs 27.2 billion was spent on area-based policing services. Most of this money was spent during the election period and the community policing efforts were diverted from crime to politics.

Today, the police has more motor vehicles and bikes, buses, teargas trucks and other machines. The police have more uniforms, shoes, and accessories. Unfortunately, police morale remains low as the men and women on the force still languish in poor conditions.

Police constables are paid about Shs 260,000 while the lowest paid staff in lucrative postings like the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) gets Shs 1.1 million a month.

The police have a shortage of over 30,000 housing units and most of them live in single room shanties without toilets, electricity, or running water.

Despite spending handsomely on quelling protests, the force allocated a paltry Shs 62 billion on accommodation and housing for policemen and women.

Laxity

As a result of the poor working conditions, most police officers are reluctant to work, demand bribes before work, and are unlikely to intervene to stop a crime. In extreme cases, a few officers have joined the criminals to rob and murder.

In April, CID officials arrested and detained a top official with the Special Forces Group (SFG) working with the First Lady Janet Museveni’s security detail over the theft of a Prado Land Cruiser belonging to DrightonKatenta, an intelligence officer. Ahumuza was reportedly released after a week after promising to divulge details of the theft.

The car theft was just a few months after the SFG disciplinary unit had convicted and sentenced soldiers Charles Kimuli, Pt. David Nuwagira, Moses Muhangi, Gideon Tumuhimbise, among others for stealing large sums of money from the State House office at Okello House in Kampala.

Sources say the authorities have never ascertained the amount stolen but media reports put the figure between hundreds of millions and billions.

The 2011 East African Bribery Index, ranked the Uganda police as the second most corrupt institution in the region. Some criminals including self-confessed murderers, claimed to be working with the force.

Dead departments

The situation is worsened by weaknesses in the police’s investigation arms, and failure to find suspects, and bring them to justice. In most instances, cases collapse due to police ineptness or corruption.

Police data reveals that of the 6692 criminal cases reported to police in March, only 1288 have been prosecuted and a paltry 94 convictions. As a result some people are increasingly opting for mob justice—the reason mob justice murder cases have doubled with in the two previous months.

Until recently, the police had Rapid Response Unit (RRU), a surrogate of the Violent Crime Crack Unit (VCCU) and Operation Wembley, as the specialised unit for tackling hardcore crime.

But RRU was disbanded late last year after it came under heavy criticism for abuse of human rights, torture, extortion, and extra-judicial killings.

Most of the police and military personnel who engaged in these heinous crimes were absorbed into the main force and spread the vices.

According to the latest report of the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), the police force once again topped the list of human rights abusers according to a survey.

The police were allegedly involved in increased torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment of civilians.

“Government of Uganda has failed to investigate adequately the use of lethal force by security forces that resulted in the deaths of at least nine people during protests over corruption and rising commodity prices in April 2011,” US’s Human Rights Watch noted on March 30.

Critics say that the increase in criminal cases is due to the force’s laxity and poor relationship with the public following a wave of demonstrations that pitted the two against each other.

Since the police started brutally quelling Walk-to-Work, the public has become angrier. A policeman, John Michael Ariong, was killed and police arrested over 50 people in events that further strained relations between the former and the public. Senkumbi said the lack of cooperation from the public is hurting police’s ability to fight crime.

“Our departments also need support here and there but it is not true that we are incompetent,” he said.

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