Riding on the ferry in Freetown, Sierra Leone was an experience — one that led to the nearby police station.

Riding on the ferry in Freetown, Sierra Leone was an experience — one that led to the nearby police station.

Policing challenges taken to new level

The scene in a Freetown, Sierra Leone police station was far beyond anything I could ever imagine.

Last week, I commented on some of my observations in the African country of Sierra Leone, which I visited in December.

I commented on infrastructure and local services. One service I didn’t mention was police.

I had several dealings with the Sierra Leone Police, the  country’s national police service. Most were positive. But one was so memorable that it is worth recounting in some detail.

As mentioned last week, the Freetown Airport is across the harbour from the capital city, and it is a lengthy trip to get there. On arrival at the airport, we were met by our daughter, who bargained for a taxi to take us the 12 kilometres or so to the ferry dock.

There we bought our tickets and waited for about 90 minutes for the ferry to depart.

The ferry was jammed with people and vehicles. It was almost impossible to move, whether on  the outside deck or in the first-class lounge, which simply offered a place to sit down, and allowed us to keep an eye on our luggage.

On arrival at Freetrown, the crowds heading ashore were unbelievable. It was very difficult to get off. I got separated from the other members of my group, and when I finally got ready to step off the ferry, I was swarmed by thieves who quickly helped themselves to my wallet.

The thieves can easily come onto the ferry from town — there is no barrier to keep them out of the arrival area.

I immediately noticed that my wallet was gone and started shouting. This attracted a lot of attention, with many Sierra Leoneans coming to me and asking me not to judge the country too harshly. They genuinely felt bad.

This also attracted police, who have a small office just at the entrance to the ferry dock.

They didn’t find the thieves, one of whom was claiming to be a taxi driver, but we did make a statement. It was quite a scene.

The police station is one small room, with two jail cells, one for men and one for women. As we went in to make a statement, a crowd followed. This was entertainment for them.

A small child was sitting on a bench adjacent to the table at which a police woman took down the statement. It was her son. She had to stop in the midst of the statement (at 10:30 p.m.) to take him to the bathroom.

Meanwhile, other police officers looked on but didn’t do anything. There was a lot of shouting. People in Freetown are loud in most circumstances, and these circumstances seemed to take things to a new decibel level.

While all this was going on, a distraught man who was in one jail cell was holding on to the bars, crying that he “didn’t do it.” I’m not sure what he was there for.

It was a scene that I could not have created in my imagination — let alone be part of in real life.

I said to a number of people afterwards that it was worth the $150 that was stolen from me, just to see it.

I have a new appreciation for how our police officers do their work, after seeing the circumstances in which their Sierra Leone colleagues have to do theirs.