Citizen arrests occur when ordinary people either detain criminals themselves or direct police officers to detain a criminal. In certain situations, private individuals have the power to arrest without a warrant. These arrests by citizens are subject to fewer constitutional requirements than an arrest by law enforcement officers.
Whenever a crime is committed, as citizens we are required to report to the police instead of taking action on our own. Police officers are equipped with the proper intervention tools and trained to deal with incidents, which may escalate to become violent. But what happens when the police that is meant to uphold law and order is the very one that is breaking the law and more so oppressing the citizens it is meant to protect? What happens when a police officer asks for a bribe to do his/ her job?
This week on Monday (5th August 2019) the Kyere Subcounty OC CID in Serere District, Detective Denis Elwelu was arrested by angry Citizens and handed over to Central Police Station over abuse of office, abetting criminal cases, extortion of money for Police Bond and effecting arrests. His arrest follows continuous complains by the community to the Police authorities who did not regard their appeals imperative to take action.
Mzee Okima Michael a disabled old man whose property has been pilfered by a renowned village criminal is one of the victims of the wrecked fraudulent police system. When Mzee Okima went to have his case registered with the Police Post, Detective Denis Elwelu demanded 50,000 Uganda Shillings. The old man sought guidance from the Solidarity Serere Chapter, who hatched a plan to have the Detective arrested and handed over to Police. The community successfully arrested the detective and he is currently detained at Soroti CPS by the Standards Protection Unit awaiting production in court.
In Uganda, we have witnessed many criminals go free or even never arrested or charged because they are in powerful positions where they take the law in their own ‘hands’ and yet sometimes they are the people supposed to uphold the law for the citizens. Individuals and communities suffer at the hands of corrupt government officials who extort money from them. If their cases have to be heard then they must pay a price, unfortunately even when citizens desperately pay this price their justice is still denied.
Even with great intimidation from authorities to withdraw the charges, the citizens are determined to keep in the struggle for justice and a corruption-free system where everyone is held accountable for their actions.
Citizen arrests have become part of the norm in many Ugandan communities. Many solidarity Chapters across the country are picking this up as they realize the failure of responsible authorities to perform their duties because of their enormous greed for money and sometimes-political positions. These direct actions have greatly escalated their struggles as some of these oppressors are brought to book.