Reforming the police
“The fact is, of course, that even under the most favourable circumstances the police’s ability to act against crime is limited. The police did not create and cannot resolve the social conditions that lead to crime. They did not start and cannot stop the convulsive changes taking place in the country. They do not enact laws that they are required to enforce and do not dispose of the criminals they arrest. The police are only one part of the Criminal Justice System. The Criminal Justice System is only one part of the society. In so far as crime is a social phenomenon, crime prevention is the responsibility of every part of the society”. (US Presidential Commission on Law and Order, 1967)
Regardless of its negative image, the police department remains one of the most important institutions in the country on account of the vital functions it is required to perform. This makes the service irreplaceable. It cannot be relegated in importance or structurally downsized. It needs to be reformed and improved to enable it to fulfil its responsibilities. Successive governments have appreciated this point as indicated by the formation of a host of inquiry committees and commissions.
The reports and recommendations also indicate that the problem with the system continues to persist. The police remain a coercive force. Most citizens are afraid of them and do not think of them as protectors.
In the eyes of the public, the police continue to be a legacy of the colonial rule. A number of committees and commission have been constituted to analyse the police system and the performance of the force and to suggest remedies.
A police station is a basic field unit. It is here that the people meet the police. Unfortunately, most respectable citizens shudder at the very thought of having to visit a police station
Unfortunately, in the absence of suitable leadership, clear national goals and democratic values, social and moral values have suffered deterioration and degradation. The police have been no exception to this.
Public perception of the police has generally been negative.
There are a number of reasons for this including the following: police are known to bully citizen and make false arrests, torture those in their custody, prosecute people on false charges and protect illegal influential criminals. In many cases the aggrieved do not hope to get a fair deal and prefer to settle scores without taking their complaints to police. The police are anything but well untrained, equipped and motivated to protect the citizens.
Unfortunately, most people have come to reconcile themselves with the state of affairs. This has made it difficult to bring the police and the public together. Cordiality between the public and police is unlikely until the perceptions change. The police must prove that they see themselves as servants of the people and not those of the government or some politicians.
Over the years, there have been a number of attempts at reforming the police. A number of committees and commissions have studied the problems and given their recommendations. Generally speaking, these bodies have identified some very pertinent weaknesses, like their vulnerability to interference by government leaders and other politicians. The police force Pakistan inherited at independence was established in 1861 to serve the interests of the rulers. Their attitudes have not changed and they remain a coercive force. Citizens do not think of them as their protectors.
Corruption in the police force is one aspect of its image. Criminality in uniform is another. There have been many cases where police personnel have been found involved in major crimes. Their involvement in robbery and kidnapping for ransom has been regularly highlighted in the media. Why do the police take to crime? It is partly because most of the policemen are lower middle- and middle-class people hit by financial problems. There are also many loopholes in the system of accountability through which the police can get away with their crimes. Politicians, parliamentarians and feudal lords use the police for their own interests. Then there is pressure on the police and interference in their work from government leaders.
In 72 years of our existence as an independent and a sovereign country, we have not been able to remove the incongruity between the political system and the bureaucratic regimen. Outdated laws and structure of the police further compound the problem. They continue to be haunted by a lack of meaningful research and development and non-adoption of emerging technologies.
A police station is a basic field unit. It is here that the people meet the police. Unfortunately, most respectable citizens shudder at the very thought of having to visit a police station. It is here that the people form an image of the police. In many cases the police do not entertain complaints. They even do not register the first information reports for cognizable offences. To paint a better than realistic picture of their performance they indulge in burking. In some cases, the complainants have to approach superior courts for a direction to the police to register complaints. Despite the lip service, successive governments have been unable to take concrete steps to tame the police.
The perceptions notwithstanding, there have been cases where police personnel exhibited exemplary courage and devotion and acted beyond the call of duty. Unfortunately, such acts of bravery are quickly forgotten, given the generally poor image of the force. Progressive elements in the police are making concerted efforts to provide a sense of security and protection to the citizens by adopting modern methods and techniques.
Once all is said and done, a concerted effort is needed to reform the police. The self-esteem of the police and their interaction with the citizens must improve.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.