THE rate at which criminal cases are being lost due to poor investigations is worrying. Suspects are being acquitted largely due to insufficient evidence.
This inability by arresting police officers to adequately prepare for successful prosecutions smacks of a deliberate ploy to embarrass Government. Something is fishy. The earlier that the police high command take decisive action to bring this to a stop, the better.
Certainly, something is wrong somewhere, and there is need for Government to critically examine (lacunas) that have emerged within the Zambia Police Service, particularly in the investigations and prosecutions department.
Why are police officers exhibiting such high levels of incompetence in their investigations? How often do the officers undergo refresher courses, let alone conduct continuous professional development programmes?
Failure by the Zambia Police investigations departments to coordinate and gather enough evidence before they consider taking high profile cases to court for prosecution exposes deep cracks in this regard. There is urgent need to strengthen this department by exposing officers to internationally acceptable standard procedures and techniques of investigations to enhance efficient execution tasks.
What is the rationale of police officers arresting individuals before understanding the nature of the crime as well as the requisite evidence to ensure successful prosecution?
It is basic knowledge that before the arresting officer contemplates effecting an arrest, at least one ought to know what offence or crime an individual may have committed. This prerequisite knowledge helps the officer prepare a docket that contains all relevant elements of prosecution.
It is on the strength of the evidence gathered during investigations that a docket is submitted to the National Prosecutions Authority for the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions ( DDP) either to authorise prosecution or not.
Much as the office of the DPP may have to review the prospects of a matter succeeding during trial, such decision is dependent on the weight and credibility of evidence the police have presented.
The responsibility to gather and organise credible evidence which the prosecutions team should rely on during trial squarely lies with the arresting officers. Neglecting this duty is tantamount to shooting oneself in the foot.
All trained police officers know that they are procedurally part of the prosecution in many criminal proceedings.
When the arresting police officer has not done his or her job well, it becomes extremely challenging for the prosecutors from NPA to effectively secure a conviction because the courts base their decisions on evidence presented.
The current trend where police officers do shoddy investigations, thereby end up with the weak evidence which embarrasses the State must be checked.
In the recent past, the Zambia Police has taken some offenders to court for defamation of the President and the Inspector General of Police in which the accused have been either acquitted by the court due to inconsistencies in the evidence presented or the DPP has had to enter a nolle prosequi (discontinue prosecutions) due to insufficient evidence.
For instance, the acquittal of Peter Habasimbi, a police officer who was charged with one count of defamation of the President by the Lusaka Magistrates Court due to discrepancies and inconsistencies in evidence confirms the notion that arresting officers are deliberately conducting shoddy investigations to embarrass the State.
This scenario is an indictment on the competence of the Zambia Police Service. Why are police officers falling to effectively conduct thorough investigations before taking the matter to court? Why has it become a norm for police officers to compromise evidence?