An incident in which senior lawyer Toy Nzamwita was shot dead by police in Kigali in the first hours of 2017 has understandably generated debate and fear in equal measure.
Mr Nzamwita was fatally shot by police on January 1, at the KBC roundabout near the Kigali Convention Centre and Radisson Blu Hotel.
According to Rwanda National Police (RNP), the victim who was driving against the assigned order for motorised traffic was accidentally killed as police tried to immobilise his vehicle which had jumped a police stop sign and had placed the officers in imminent danger of being run over at about 3 am in the morning. The police say it was later found out he was drunk.
The incident caused outrage with many faulting the police for use of what they saw as excessive force.
While it is not for this publication to judge the police in the absence of an inquiry, it is easy to understand the public sentiments.
After a prolonged period of order and professionalism among the disciplined forces, citizens have grown to expect more state institutions. It was also not the first time that suspects were finding themselves at the wrong end of the police barrel, meeting mortal force without the benefit of due process of law.
It is only fair that officers on duty should be able to save themselves when their lives are put at risk by hostile suspects but this should be after careful threat assessment and exhaustion of alternative means of containment.
Such incidents are bound to strain the relationship between the public and their protectors. This should not be allowed to happen first because a few incidents can hardly be a standard for arriving at hasty conclusions in such cases.
We cannot pretend to know the police’s work better but the latest incident could actually be an opportunity for rebuilding public trust because fortunately it happened in an area covered by surveillance cameras.
It should therefore be easy to reconstruct the incident and arrive at informed conclusions. If the video evidence exonerates the officers involved, the public should be graceful enough to respect the verdict. If the reverse is true, the force should institute its internal procedures for handling such lapses and keep the public informed.
And even if it were for purely internal purposes, a review of such incidents is essential to the force’s learning processes. It could also help unearth creeping problems from the screening, recruitment through to recurrent training.
Effective policing is the result of a working partnership between the community and its keepers. It would be tragic if mishandling these incidents through omission or commission results in a breakdown of trust between the police and the public.
The reputation of its disciplined forces is one of the attributes that make Rwanda stand out among its peers. The expectations around such a reputation are a form of pressure on their own.