Detective Godfrey Kalete appeared before the Anti-Corruption Court Grade One Magistrate, Albert Asiimwe on Tuesday this week on two counts of corruption and seeking gratification.
He is accused of soliciting a bribe of Shillings 200,000 from Hanan Muhammad as an inducement to track and return her stolen phone. According to Hanan, the suspect convinced her that he would use his phone tracking expertise to recover her phone.
By the time of his arrest, Kalete had received Shillings 70,000 out of the Shillings 200,000 he had asked for from Hanan for his services. Kaleta pleaded not guilty to the charges and was remanded to prison until April 1, 2019.
Just like Hanan, dozens of people lose their phones to thugs in different parts of the country each day. Police records for the last three months show that at least 38 people report mobile phone thefts in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono districts each day.
50 percent of the phone theft victims do whatever is possible to try and recover their phones. Some of them end up spending huge sums of money in payments to individual police officers to track and recover their phones just like the case of Hanan.
The procedure of recovering a stolen phone
According to information obtained from police by URN, the first step is to report to the police once a phone is lost or stolen. Once one reports loss or theft of a phone, police issue them a reference number and tries to establish whether or not the phone is still active.
The Kampala Metropolitan Police Spokesperson, Patrick Onyango, says after this process, the detective is expected to secure a court order directing the Telecom Company that phone victim was using to provide the call record and the mobile phone serial number.
"Once the detective gets the printout, they use it to track the stolen mobile phone by looking at other numbers that have since been inserted into the phone and the area of their operations," Onyango said.
They use these numbers to track down and recover the phones. This sometimes involves picking up some people in connecting with the person holding the stolen phones to lead the officers to the suspect.
But a reliable source who deals with stolen phones at Cooper Complex each day says tracking stolen mobile phones using call print outs is very rudimentary.
"We know that the serial numbers can be tracked and therefore we try our best to have the serial number changed within 24 hours. After that you cannot track the phone," the source told our reporter on condition of anonymity to speak freely.
Adding that ”like me, I can crack any phone and change its serial number except for an iPhone. That one I only get spare parts from them."
This means to track a stolen mobile phone one has a 24-hour window before its serial number is changed. Past experiences indicate that thieves usually switch off the phones immediately after stealing them and turn them on a few hours later to try and get any information and useful contacts.
The phone will also need to be turned back on in order to flash it and change the serial numbers. Some police officers have privately secured phone tracking software and equipment.
These can track both the motion of the mobile phone number and serial numbers of stolen phones. With this software, the officers are able to acquire a code, which is fed into software that works with Google Maps.
The code pinpoints the exact location of the phone. The officers provide private phone tracking services at between Shillings 200,000 and Shillings 500,000 depending on the make and value of the phone.
Farouk Ssempala who lost his phone, says he opted to pay for the informal phone tracking services because it is fast and there are high chances of recovering the phone. "By the time police gets a court order it is too late. If I have money, I just pay the professional trackers, “Ssempala said.
But the police has been fighting to get rid of informal phone tracking service providers from its premises. The best phone tracking team, which used to sit at the Flying Squad Unit Headquarters in Kampala, was disbanded together with the unit in April 2018.