Flying Squad operatives uncertain about future

Flying Squad operatives uncertain about future
Former commander Flying Squad Herbert Muhangi

There was a somber mood at the Flying Squad Unit headquarters at Kampala Central Police Station building on Tuesday afternoon shortly after news break of the disbandment of the unit. The Inspector General of Police, Martins Okoth Ochola disbanded Flying Squad Unit and replaced it with a department of organised crime led by detective, Mark Odong under the Special Investigations Unit.

He redeployed Herbert Muhangi, the former commandant of the Flying Squad Unit as head of head of Manpower auditing under the Human Resource Administration Directorate. The Flying Squad Unit has been in charge of handling gun related crimes and other high profile cases like kidnap and vehicle theft.

The disbandment of the unit comes at a time when police is struggling with armed robberies, motor vehicle thefts, kidnaps and many other high profile cases. Flying Squad is currently the most dreaded armed force in Uganda due to its speed, intelligence capacity, ability to track criminals, High technological capability and reputation for easily resolving complex violent crimes.

The unit has also had its share of bad news with complaints if torture, extortion and even armed crimes levied against them. This however didn’t stop the police top management from trusting its abilities.

Flying Squad has been the most funded police unit. Its personnel had money, fuel and any other needed resources at their disposal. Shortly after news of the disbandment of the unit broke, our reporter walked through its former headquarters at Kampala Central Police Station building.

The once energetic and jovial operatives under the unit looked dejected. The corridors were full of whispers of an uncertain future as they await reconstitution by Grace Akullo, the Director Criminal Investigations Department as directed by the IGP.

In a message issued on Tuesday afternoon, all personnel in the disbanded unit are expected to make reports on all resources available and report to the CID Headquarters by May 16th, 2018.

One of the operatives told this publication on condition of anonymity that he and his colleagues are concerned about their future deployment. “I don’t understand how they can just shut us down like that. We have been doing a good job. Where will they take us now?” the operative asked.

The Deputy Police Spokesperson, Patrick Onyango refused to confirm the disbandment of the unit, saying he hadn’t seen any message to the effect. “All I have seen is that the personnel need to report to CID which is very normal,” Onyango said.

Flying Squad had just completed sieving out civilian operatives who were working as Special Police Constables. In 2016, all operatives were taken for a three month’s refresher course after which most of them were deployed to the Field Force Police and newly recruited police officers deployed under the unit.

Since it was created in 2001, the Police Flying Squad was dependent on ill-trained and unprofessional operatives to fight violent crime. The Flying Squad was created as an emergency response unit to high crime rates in the city and its suburbs.

It started as a Para-military group popularly known as ‘Wembley’, led by Brig Elly Kayanja. It later morphed into the Violent Crime Crack Unit (VCCU), and was renamed the Rapid Response Unit (RRU). In 2012 it was christened Flying Squad.

The police leadership kept changing its name in an attempt to clean up the image of the unit but still this didn’t help. When it was formed, police enrolled former soldiers, police informers, known criminals, serving soldiers and a few police officers. Some of these operatives have stayed while others were moved.

Every new commander appointed to head the unit came in with a few trusted personnel. The commanders have also tended to move on with their trusted operatives once transferred from the unit.

For instance, Charles Kataratambi, who once led the unit, moved along with seven trusted operatives when he was transferred to the Special Investigations Division in Kireka. Four of them have since left the force and are being investigated together with Karatambi for theft of Equity bank money.