MONROVIA, Montserrado – When Abraham Morris’ home was burglarized a few months ago, he thought he could call the police emergency hotline to get assistance. But that number was not active for him.
“I called this number as many as I can but to no avail,” he said, adding that he received no help from the police as the number was a deadline.
But Morris was not using the official police hotline. Instead, he was dialing the commonly assumed number, 9-1-1. Calling that number is futile, because it’s not an active number, at least not in Liberia.
Yet, when you ask many in the Monrovia metropolitan area what the emergency number for the police is, they tell you 9-1-1, but they would often caution that, like most government services, the number does not work as intended.
Even among police officers themselves, both high and low ranking, many do not know the official number, which is 0770-800-911.
Speaking to officers from various locations in Montserrado about the hotline, none knew the proper number to call in cases of armed robbery or criminal attacks. Many assumed it was 9-1-1, while others acknowledged that they simply did not know.
“I know that there is a line that the public needs to call when there’s an attack, but I can’t actually recall the number,” said one officer stationed at an intersection in Monrovia. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not the official police spokesperson. “I’m sure our bosses at Central can help you get the number but I don’t know.”
At the emergency center where operators field calls from the public, Joshua Boima, the head of the Radio Room, acknowledged that there were few emergency calls coming in but he declined to be specific. He said the service is new and still needs more awareness.
The issue with the police call center is indicative of the challenges the Liberia National Police faces in ensuring the safety and protection of residents. Even if the call center received calls from citizens, it is not clear that the police would have the logistics needed to be able to intervene.
An organization known as Open Liberia recently presented the results of a two-month survey of 26 of the 32 police depots in Montserrado that shows that the police are incapable of responding simultaneously to multiple crimes due to the lack of sufficient logistical support.
Open Liberia’s Executive Director Samuka V. Konneh said his study showed that most logistical equipment including vehicles, motorbikes, and supplies such as internet-equipped computers are only assigned to the headquarters.
In fact, he said 73 percent of the police depots confirmed they are unable to respond to multiple crimes being reported simultaneously because of the lack of necessary resources.
He said his research shows that seven depots including Joe Bar, New Kru Town, Gobachop, Bong Mine Bridge, VOA, Doe Community, and Logan Town reported not having any vehicle or motorbike. Because of this, many reported that they may sometimes take up to three hours to reach the sites of reported crimes.
Konneh said his organization sent a draft copy of the report to the police and sought comments, but did not receive a response.
While the police continue to be woefully underequipped, recent months have seen officers outfitted with new equipment, uniforms, and new vehicles.
In the months leading up to Election Day, top officials of the police were often seen parading the city’s streets in new Police-branded vehicles. A subsequent US$2 million donation by the Chinese Embassy in July saw the police acquire batons, pepper sprays, traffic cones, raincoats, reflective jackets, spike strips, and other equipment.
At many intersections in the Monrovia area where police are usually stationed, there are now tents that are meant to serve as shelter from weather elements. Last Thursday, the police revealed that the Chinese Embassy had made further donations of motorcycles and automobiles.
However, despite these donations, ordinary citizens know that when facing an armed robbery or other criminal attacks, their best option is to reach out to their neighbors for help. The police still lack an easy-to-remember emergency number and even the official number may not be answered.
Police spokesperson Sam Collins declined to comment on this story.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah