The Kuisebmond community hall at Walvis Bay was packed as people attended a meeting called by the police yesterday morning.
Erongo regional police commander commissioner Andreas Nelumbu said the police were disturbed by community members taking matters into their own hands, and assaulting people they believed were arsonists.
A series of shack fires have been reported at the town over the past few weeks, and these were blamed on people who would start the fires and run away. The angry community members have at times taken matters into their own hands, assaulting suspects, blocking roads and causing damage to police and private vehicles.
Nelumbu urged community members to team up with the police, instead of taking the law into their own hands as this might land them in trouble.
"You are not even well-informed, but you join others in beating up people. What if you are the last one to beat this person, and he dies? Your home is already burnt down, and now you are arrested. Your family is without a mother or father, and you lose double. You already have lost too much. We do not want to arrest people unnecessarily. You are our brothers and sisters. We also have hearts," he stated.
The commissioner lashed out at mobs who threw stones and other missiles at police vehicles earlier this week, saying they are putting themselves and the entire community at risk as police vehicles have to be withdrawn from service because of damages, instead of being used to fight crime.
"We now have vehicles that are parked and cannot be used for work anymore. When police are called for crimes and they fail to attend, you still blame them for it. How can we operate then? There are already not enough vehicles, and now you are doing this, instead of just cooperating. I do not support people who burn down other people's property, but I am also not in support of mobs beating people and damaging property. What is the difference then, between those burning other's properties and mobs?" he asked rhetorically.
He added that police officers have the right to fire rubber bullets, but do not do so in most cases because they think about the people.
"But what if that day there is someone without the same patience? Others will just fire, and chaos will erupt. We really need to think. Let us work together, and do things procedurally. Let's come forward with proper information that can lead to solving a case. Some see things happening, but because it is not their property, they do not call the police. However, they go around the community, spreading rumours, resulting in unnecessary reactions in the community. Let us stop spreading rumours out of excitement," he advised.
He further informed the masses that the police work according to the law and guidelines, whether it is for victims, rich or poor people, and thus asked them not to break the law. He told residents that criminals sometimes wear up to five T-shirts, and throw away one when they are being pursued.
When someone else is then caught wearing a similar T-shirt, they are taken as suspects and beaten up.
"We know that people are bitter,. But if you kill the people suspected to have committed the crime, how do we get more information then? You can apprehend them, but please hand them over to the police. Some people were just found running in the street and if they are wearing something similar to that of the suspect, you already decide that it's the suspect."
The adviser to the Erongo regional governor, Adelheid Kandajala, also asked the community to cooperate with authorities.
She said two of the shack fires occurred in her street in one night.
"I feel for you. It is strange, the way it happened. I know that some of the people doing this are sitting right here among us. You are doing wrong. Come and tell us why you are doing this, and who has sent you. These are people created by God, not you," she stressed.
She urged those who are afraid to talk, whether they are the culprits or witnesses, to approach her privately for assistance.
Everyone who suffered losses in the series of shack fires was advised to open cases to make police investigations easier. While others were content to listen to the police and give their input, some walked out of the meeting when asked not to take matters into their own hands.