Addis Abeba has around 22,000 police officers entrusted with keeping the peace in the city.

It was supposed to be a special trip when Abdu Adem brought his 18-year-old daughter on his work trip to Addis Abeba last month.

The 45-year-old father of five who lives in Bale Robe comes to the capital every month to report to his office's headquarters. He works at Bale Robe Vital Registration Office.

During his latest trip, he brought his second daughter as she had never visited the city before.

“She always wanted to see Addis Abeba, and she was really excited when she came along,” Adem told Fortune.

On July 1, 2019, after finishing work, it was finally time for Adem to take his daughter out. The trip started early with the two paying their first visit to Oromia Cultural Center and next on their list was Addis Abeba International Airport located in Bole.

Around 10:00am, after making a small stop at Dembel City Centre, on Africa Avenue, they took a minibus taxi to the airport.

They jumped in the first taxi that came their way. Eight people were in the taxi, including two women, and due to the sitting arrangement, the father and the daughter had to split up. Adem sat in the first row, while his daughter sat in the third.

Once the car started moving, the front seat broke and fell on Adem's lap. He pulled it back up again, but he was told by the driver to keep holding it so that the assistant, the one who collects the money, can screw the seat in place.

Adem decided to cooperate willingly and had no reason not to help. He was holding the seat with his two hands, while the assistant tried to fix it. However, the task took too long, which made Adem uncomfortable and somewhat suspicious.

"I didn’t like the seat and decided to stop holding it," said Adem.

But as he was putting  his hands back in his pocket, he directly caught the guy sitting next to him taking his phone out of his pocket.

After taking back his phone and making sure he did not lose other things, Adem confronted the guy.

"I told the others the guy was a thief and told them to call the police," said Adem.

But nobody offered a helping hand, and Adem then realised that everybody else was in on it too. The confrontation between the two got physical, and the other passengers in the taxi also laid their hands on Adem, while his daughter was crying and screaming in the back.

When things heated up, and Adem realised he was not in a position to win, he told them to drop him and his daughter off and let them go, to which they agreed.

Luckily for Adem, a nearby code enforcement officer had been watching what was happening inside the taxi, and when the doors opened to drop them off, the officer was there to provide a helping hand.

Soon, the confrontation caught the attention of nearby people and the code enforcement officer called the police.

The minibus taxi used in the attempted theft of Abdu Adem is in police custody and parked at Lancha Area Community Police Station.

As the perpetrators understood the police were on their tail, they decided to abandon the taxi as they could not drive it away in the congested road.

It became a foot chase, and all eight individuals ran in one direction, while Adem and the code enforcement officer chased from behind.

As the chase continued, the suspects ran away from the main road and into shanty areas. Unfortunately, Adem and the officer could not keep track, and the suspects escaped.

When Adem came back to the minibus, the federal police had already arrived. Adem and his daughter, along with the vehicle, were taken to Lancha Area Community Police Station to give their statements.

“It was a disturbing experience that has shocked my daughter and me,” said Adem.

Though the incident caught the unsuspecting visitors, by surprise, such criminal methods are not new for the city’s dwellers.

“Such crimes are quite common,” one of the police officers told Fortune.

However, despite their familiarity with the city’s crime methods, the city’s residents argue that there is an increase in the frequency.

During the first three quarters of the current fiscal year, 12,300 criminal activities were registered in the city, according to the Addis Abeba Police Commission. The first quarter saw the highest figure with 4,991 recorded crimes.

One such person, who belives crime is on the rise, is Rashida Mohammed, who has lost three phones to thieves this year.

"Lately, there is something different, and criminal activities are increasing," Rashida told Fortune.

Rashida is not alone in her concern, which is shared by other residents, businesses and even international organisations too.

Two months ago, the African Union issued a security alert notifying its employees to take extra precautions, stating there was a rising incident of crimes in the capital.

“Some of the reported incidents include attempted robberies of the African Union headquarters, armed robbery of African Union member state expatriate residences, as well as robbery of local and international staff of AU,” reads the statement.

Another diplomatic entity had also fallen victim to the criminals of Addis. In May 2019, the residents of the Namibian Embassy Staff located around Atlas Hotel were robbed by armed men who took money, cell phones, jewelery and laptops.

"With the rise of similar incidents of this nature, the safety of the Diplomatic Mission remains a grave concern," reads a statement released by the Embassy of the Republic of Namibia.

The notion is also shared by some of the city’s police officers, including Fikadu Selassie, an inspector at Lancha Area Community Police Station, one of the 22,000 police officers in the city.

"Though the number of reported crimes at Lancha Area Community Police Station has decreased, the concern is largely raised when we come in contact with the public," said Fikadu.

He believes that most of the crimes are committed on commuters that are passing through the area and that they leave without reporting it.

Fikadu sees a gap in the system that might have resulted in the current situation.

"More than half of the crimes committed in our area were done by people who were previously in prison," said Fikdau.

Police officers in the city Fortunetalked to do share the sentiment of Fikadu and say that inmates that are lately being released from prison after getting pardoned are committing the majority of the new crimes.

When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) came to power in April 2018 after months of chaos that baffled the country, he made some changes including welcoming back exiled opposition groups, as well as freeing thousands of prisoners.

The prisoners were released after parliament legislated an amnesty bill. The bill, which had a life span of six months, granted amnesty for individuals and groups either under investigation or convicted for terrorism, treason, crimes against the constitutional order and armed struggles.

The law, which lapsed at the beginning of 2019, led to the granted of amnesty for 55,000 prisoners.

"However, the reconciliation was also inclusive of common criminals that were in jail for committing theft, robbery and other crimes," said Zeleke Delelo, head of the Office of Pardon Board.

Besides the ones that were getting amnesty through the bill, the Board of Pardon that had the power to pardon inmates was freeing more prisoners than usual.

The law that enabled the granting of pardons was issued in 2014 with the main objective of ensuring the interests of the public, government and offenders by re-integrating criminal offenders into the community and making them productive citizens upon ascertaining that they have repented and reformed.

For inmates to be eligible to ask for a pardon, they have to serve at least one-third of their sentence and show they have indeed repented of their mistakes.

However, all inmates cannot ask for pardons, and those convicted for crimes against humanity, corruption, rape charges and crimes against children are excluded from the pardon.

The Board, which has 11 members, has to decide with a majority vote to grant the eligibility, and the decision has to be approved by the president.

The year 2018 saw the pardoning of 2,670 prisoners. The pardoning had a significant effect on decreasing the number of inmates in the country.

There were 15,431 inmates in the six federal prisons in the country two years ago, while the number currently stands at 10,784.

"However, the pardoning also brought with it an unintended consequence of increasing the crime rate," said Zeleke.

Some prisoners that were pardoned for committing robbery and burglary after being released returned to their past criminal activities, according to Zeleke.

The Board says it has identified the problem and is no longer granting pardons for those convicted of robbery and burglary.

"We've significantly decreased the number of inmates that get pardoned too," said Zeleke.

This year, after receiving 2,584 pardon requests, the Board approved 1,514 of them.

However, all do not agree to the attribution of the increasing number of crimes to the pardoning of inmates.

"There has never been a scientific study that shows incarceration leads to the deterrence of criminal activities," said Simeneh Kiros, a criminal law lecturer at Addis Abeba University's School of Law & Governance Studies.

Studies show that there is always some increase in the rate of politically motivated organised crime after political transitions, according to Simeneh.

"However, the notion that there is an increase in the number of crimes is just an opinion and not fact," Simeneh said.

Simeneh argues that even if the rate of crime in the capital has shown an increase, such a fact cannot be attributed to the pardoning of criminals, and a lot of other factors could play a role.

"We can't conclude that the releasing of inmates by pardons is causing an increase in the rise of criminal activity," said Simeneh.

Recidivism, the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend, is also high among other countries in the world, as offenders often finds themselves in the same, if not worse, socio-economic situation that led them to crime in the first place.

A paper published in 2017 by Getahun Tessema, dubbed ''The Nexus Between Urban Crime and Poverty: The Case of Addis Ababa City Administration,'' found that more than half of the offenders in the city were unemployed, the majority - 83pc - of them did not have a profession and 55.4pc of them were without employable skills.

The study also found that the majority of the offenders were uneducated as well as vulnerable to poverty.

The offenders that tried to rob Adem have not been caught yet. Adem’s daughter, traumatised by the event, left the city the day after the crime occurred. But Adem says he is grateful he was not harmed, and things could have been much worse.

“As for my daughter, it’s different,” said Adem. “It’s going to be a while before my daughter decides to come back to Addis."

PUBLISHED ON Aug 03,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1005]

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