Arrest is not the point, conviction is

28 February 2020
Author   Jackie Wilson Asheeke
I am less concerned with arrests of suspects and more concerned convictions of criminals.  It always fascinates me how many people are satisfied with statistics on arrests as if that is the Holy Grail for ending crime.  It isn’t.  Namibia has a system that claims people are innocent until proven guilty.  Therefore, a crime is not ‘solved’ by an arrest, but only by a conviction.
So, why do so many people blindly accept grand announcements of arrests as proof of police effectiveness or as an indicator of how safe the streets are?
Fishrot accused are arrested. Ok.  I’ll pop the cork on the Moët when they are convicted.  It could well be that evidence is insufficient or that some are charged for specific crimes that they did not actually commit, when they did other illegal things instead.  More charges could be coming.  Who knows?  The court case must work that out. 
At the end of the day, what substantive (not emotional) difference does it make to arrest (for example) 50 men on rape charges when not a single conviction results from that?  I’d rather that 10 solid, evidence-backed arrests were made AND 10 men were convicted in the fastest time the law allows and put in super max lock down (serious prison) for their crimes.
I come from a place where the police used to routinely do ‘sweeps’ of high crime areas and arrest whomever was unlucky enough to be  ‘around’ at the time they show up. This gives the cops better crime statistics for the media, it helps at budget time and it is crucial at election time for the mayor and the city council. 
Crime beat reporters who follow-up on the sweeps easily find that if (for example) 100 people are arrested, maybe a quarter of them pay fines for some misdemeanour, but not a single one is convicted of a felony and all are released within 24-72 hours (except the few that may have outstanding warrants in other states).   Arrests for the sake of it is not crime prevention or solving outstanding crimes.  It is cosmetics.
In my ‘hood, getting arrested is a rite of passage, not a crime deterrent.   If arrest alone is the measure of an effective police force or if such actions lull the public into a false feeling that ‘something is being done about crime’, then Namibia could also fall down that rabbit hole.  
Getting sent to hard core lock down, however, is something else altogether.  Unless you are a part of a jail house gang that will protect you or have enough money to pay for back-up, being convicted and sent to prison is like being raw meat thrown into a lion’s cage. Jails are seriously dangerous, violence-ridden jungles with many of the guards complicit in the lack of humanity that goes on inside.  Even the hardest criminal tries to avoid being convicted.
I constantly read in print and social media that someone is calling for a person to be arrested.  Do people ‘get it’ that you must have EVIDENCE to arrest and then convict someone in a court of law?  The police cannot arrest people because people on social media demand it. 
Instead of focusing on arrests, let us face the disaster in our criminal justice system and fix it.  Let us get convictions or let people go.
Double the budget for law enforcement, investigations, prisons and the criminal courts.  We have a seriously insufficient number of experienced investigators.  Thorough investigations and credible evidence is necessary for conviction.  No evidence, no case.  So, the criminals get away with murder…literally.
This country has no full service, cutting edge forensic laboratory.  CSI is just a television show in Namibia.  Our courts are backlogged and overloaded.  We need more government lawyers for those who cannot afford private attorneys.
People sit in jail for years without being convicted of any crime. They permanently lose their families, jobs, homes, possessions and reputations.  Many are subsequently released with an “Oops sorry, no evidence - case dismissed.”  
Why not create a functioning community service work release system for petty crimes and non-violent offenders?  We can unclog the jails a bit and clear the court dockets for hard cases.
Do we allow plea-bargaining here? Handled properly, it can speed up the wheels of justice and empty the police holding cells.  Imagine if the Fishrot crew were incentivized to testify against each other in exchange for lesser charges – that would get the fur flying. More disclosure about the depth of the mess is certain to emerge – there is no honour among thieves. 
Getting arrested by itself is not the solution to the crime.  Let’s wait until the conviction and sentencing to see if justice is really served.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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