Dip in crime: Is CID shake-up paying off?

The Inspector General of Police, Mr Martins Okoth-Ochola, signs a dummy of the Police Crime report for 2023 in Kampala on February 23, 2024. PHOTOS/FRANK 

What you need to know:

  • Inspector General of Police links drop in national crime prevalence in 2023, a year of the largest personnel promotions in Uganda police history, to reorganisation of the criminal investigations directorate and improved crime detection and investigation methods. 

Tom Magambo’s arrival at the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) in Kibuli, a Kampala suburb, was greeted with suspicion, envy and even doubt by some career police officers.

President Museveni, the appointing authority, had unexpectedly parachuted him from the Internal Security Organisation (ISO), to replace departing Grace Akullo.

Ms Akullo presently oversees Interpol’s Kampala office and had, as a career police officer, grown through the ranks to an Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIGP) to superintend CID for about a decade. 

In a way, her professional roots were visibly buttressed in law enforcement. Thus, she enjoyed some degree of camaraderie with peers and subordinates within Uganda Police Force. 

Not so for Mr Magambo who was of a different pedigree. Insiders viewed him as an outsider with a military, not law enforcement, credential who snapped up a juicy slot that if taken by a career police officer would have opened promotion opportunities down the chain of command. 

That was one reason, not of his own making, why he to some was an unwelcome choice. 

Then critics lobbed a second grenade in the disapproval flame with claims that the then Coordinator of the Eastern Africa Fusion and Liaison Unit, an intelligence centre for 10 member states, had been a private abruptly promoted to a Major to suit him as CID in-charge. Some netizens censured him on social media.

It turned out the misnomers were apparently fuelled by lack of knowledge, or a misunderstanding, of ranks in the intelligence agencies, which are different from regular police or army pipping.

Magambo was a Chief Intelligence Officer, the highest internal rank within the civilian intelligence outfit, and headed Intelligence Analysis ISO.

Put another way, he was no rookie as parroted by critics. Mr Magambo’s spy-centered national and regional works spanning two decades were less public-facing; so, his was not a widely recognisable name or face by the time he was appointed CID Director. 

Shifting to oversee criminal investigations in police may have been different, but not entirely unfamiliar for the spymaster. His new assignment placed him at the crosshairs of subsisting unease in police over soldiers increasingly dominating key command positions in the civilian institution.

AIGP Tom Magambo, the Director Criminal Investigations Directorate. 

The arrival of Mr Magambo, now one of the eighteen AIGPs, at Kibuli sent tremors among staff for different reasons. He found a CID headquarters where some detectives had stayed on the job, even same rank, at a station for a decade or longer. 

Police relied on trusted and random informers alike, including residual crime preventers recruited en masse under former Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura, allowing avalanche of tips where distinguishing credible and actionable intelligence from chaff was a headache.

CID, long considered in police as the institution’s heartbeat, had suffered a knock when Gen Kayihura abolished its reputed Special Branch he accused of moonlighting for western interests. 

He culled forensics and crime intelligence, which are pillars in criminal investigations, into separate directorates, leaving the then CID director Akullo with diminished powers, an under-resourced directorate and a demoralised workforce short on specialised skills.

It was alleged detectives began trading work for fortune, prompting President Museveni in August 2022 to blast them as individuals “corrupted or bribed to suppress information”.   

Kibuli headquarters brimmed with investigators. And proxies for rival power centres and suspected criminal networks flooded the place to hobnob with detectives, blurring the lines between law keepers and breakers. 

Many cliques formed where only certain detectives could handle cases involving or relating to specific prominent individuals. 

The offices were blighted. Dimly-lit corridors were crowded with dust-caked or torn case files, making loss or displacement of documents an ever-present reality. And files indeed grew legs, according to insiders. 

Outside, the compound was littered with rusted exhibit vehicles and motorbikes, which turned hiding portals for snakes that occasionally slithered on the yard grass. 

Besides being unsightly and dangerous, allegations surfaced that some police officers, or members of their families residing in the barracks, were stripping the automobiles to sell in bits to spare parts dealers in town. 

As fate would have it, on July 21, 2023, anti-terrorism police guarding revamped CID head offices spotted three men in the dead of the night allegedly stealing parts of vehicles and motorcycles in the yard. 

Bullets fired by one of the anti-terrorism police guards on duty caught one of the escaping trio, killing him instantly. The deceased, it turned out, was a son of a senior detective working at CID headquarters at Kibuli!

The incident happened when AIGP Magambo was eighteen months on the job. Months earlier, in October 2022, he had shaken the rank-and-file of his charges in unprecedented ways to fight internal indiscretions and complacency. He summarily transferred 400 detectives, both senior and junior, out of Kampala. 

The older ones were either moved to their home districts, nearer their retirement villages, or reverted to general duties. For many officers, Kampala had become home, peers said, in ways those transferred upcountry retained their police-offered houses in the capital either for family or rent, crowding newly-arrived personnel out of official accommodation.

Left to right: Uganda Prisons Service Director of Correctional Services Milton Tiyo, IGP Martin Okoth Ochola, the Deputy Chief at the Chieftaincy of Defence Intelligence and Security, Brig Abdul Rugumayo, DPP Jane Frances Abodo, Financial Intelligence Authority Director of Compliance and Training David Ngobi, Deputy IGP Maj Gen Geoffrey Tumusiime Katsigazi and Senior Technical Advisor to the Governance and Security Programme Rachel Odoi Musoke during the launch of thet the launch of the Police Annual Crime Report 2023 at Police Headquarters in Naguru, Kampala on February 23, 2024.

Affected detectives considered their mass transfer out of Kampala and subsequent eviction from the barracks a punishment they tried to unsuccessfully resist, feeding into their disapproval of the work method of AIGP Magambo. 

But the new CID Director, who declined to speak for this article, remained a man on a mission to reform the institution for improved service delivery. 

He put a gate to tighten access to the Kibuli headquarters and banned idling interlocutors.

His reforms centered on five priorities: mindset change among personnel, empowering them with skills and modern work tools, identifying and positioning talent on merit, improving welfare and work environment and bolstering strategic partnerships.

AIGP Magambo’s first small wins included retouching the headquarters buildings, decongesting offices and reordering better storage of exhibits and staff deployment. 

CID commanders were drafted for in-service refresher trainings at Police training school in Kabalye, Masindi District, and at the Special Forces Command base in Kasenyi, Entebbe. 

More than 4,000 out of the 5,600 detectives in the country have been rotated over the past two years, the first time for some of them who had stayed at one station for up to two decades.

Then June 2023 arrived with good news for CID and all of the 10,915 promoted officers, the largest ever in the history of the 125-year-old institution. 

Of those recommended by AIGP Magambo and his team, up to 1,824 detectives got new ranks, meaning roughly two in every 10 of the promoted officers were from the criminal investigations directorate. 

It had never happened before. Morale went up among detectives, as for all of the beneficiary force personnel, and Inspector General of Police Martins Okoth Ochola said nationwide crime prevalence in the same year went down by 1.5 percentage points. 

“Our success has been due to the hard work of the police in coordination with sister security agencies, the reorganisation of the Criminal Investigations Directorate, improved detection and investigation methods, and the establishment of a proactive network of credible intelligence,” the IGP noted in the police crime report for 2023.

Other contributors, according to Mr Okoth-Ochola, included strategic partnerships with actors in the criminal justice administration, most notably the Office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (ODDP). 

Its Spokesperson Jacquelyn Okui acknowledged the closer communication and cooperation between them and CID, with quarterly regional and national coordination meetings for improved criminal justice administration.

Commissioner of PoliceSenior Commissioner of Police2
Ass Commissioner of PoliceCommissioner of Police7
Superintendent of PoliceSnr Superintendent of Police15
Ass Superintendent of PoliceSuperintendent of Police104
Inspector of PoliceAss Superintendent of Police50
Ass Inspector of PoliceInspector of Police272
SergentAss Inspector of Police 382
Corporal Sargent505
Police Constable Corporal 487

The DDP’s office due to the regular consultations gets involved early to guide police investigations to ensure “best evidence is obtained” for prosecution of suspects, she noted.

The result, as the latest police crime report shows, was seven out of every 10 criminal cases prosecuted last year leading to convictions, a rate higher than in previous years.

“The Office of the DPP partners with the police in prosecution-guided investigations,” Ms Okui noted.

Joint training on subjects such as the Anti-Homosexuality Act and trafficking in persons have ensured “both prosecutors and investigators have the same understanding of the law and enforcement procedures”, she said. 

Both sides worked closely on President Museveni’s direction last year to investigate allegations of diversion by notable government officials of iron sheets meant for vulnerable Karimojong, leading to the ongoing prosecution of at least three ministers.

There was, however, a public uproar when DPP Jane Abodo, invoking powers afforded to her by law, dropped cases against more than a dozen other influential leaders after asking police to conduct additional investigations into the specific cases.

Asked if the unilateral decision did not injure the police-DPP relations, Spokesperson Okui said last evening that the police understood that their role is to investigate criminal matters while the DPP “directs whether or not to charge individuals and with what offences”.

“Not all collected evidence leads to charging. Some collected evidence leads to exoneration of suspects of crime. This is well understood by criminal justice players,” she added.

In comments after her decision on the government bigwigs, DPP Abodo commended CID for doing thorough inquiries into the iron sheet scandal.

Her office yesterday cited prosecution-guided investigations as responsible for the breakthrough in the arrest and indictment of assistant DPP Joan Kagezi’s killers, who had eluded justice for nearly nine years. 

Sources at police headquarters told this newspaper that despite the accolades to CID, including by the IGP, many detectives still require specialised skills and tools, especially in cyber forensics, the new frontier of wide-ranging crimes.