Police Reforms Agenda
The police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law. This was the key principle established by Sir Robert Peel in 1829 when he created the London Metropolitan Police. It remains as relevant today for 21st-century policing.
While the police exists basically to prevent crime and disorder, their ability to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of their actions. By gaining public trust, the police can secure the public’s cooperation in voluntary observance of the law. Similarly, the police should always direct their actions strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the judiciary’s powers. As noted, “the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it”.
Against the above time-honoured principles of policing, it is an unfortunate reality that the police in Pakistan have mostly been used as an oppressive instrument of the state. Often a nexus develops between compliant and corrupt police commanders and a political leadership indifferent to public concerns, rule of law and people’s democratic aspirations. The rulers’ hold over police through transfers, postings, promotions, investigations and other administrative and operational matters destroys police discipline. In this equation between the police and politics, the real sufferers are the hapless people of this country for whom good governance, merit, fairness, integrity and efficiency remain an elusive dream.
Policing is all about the people or community it serves. They are the real masters. The police are an instrument of law. Therefore, to fulfil the obligations of the rule of law, it is incumbent upon governments and public functionaries to ensure that the police are politically neutral, operationally autonomous, highly accountable and a totally professional community service. For reforms in police to move forward, the following recommendations are made in the public interest.
One, in order to depoliticise the force, the head of the police department or agency must have a secure tenure. Ideally, the federal government should send a list of all eligible police officers to the Public Safety Commission which may shortlist three names per province for appointment as inspector general and the provincial governments, i.e. chief ministers and their cabinets, may select one of them. Thereafter, the IG must have a secure tenure of two to three years.
Two, the IGs should pick their teams of deputies. All regional, city, and district police chiefs should be of their choice. This is where the KP government is showing the way but it needs to be institutionalised through a legal framework.
Three, the IGs, as department heads, must have administrative, operational and financial autonomy. This should be subject to stringent accountability and audits.
Four, a public complaints redress system should get the highest priority: measures like establishment of police assistance centres manned by civilian support staff, online FIR registration, use of post offices for routing complaints and creation of helplines and help desks, including those for females, should be streamlined.
Five, the metropolitan model of policing should be established in large urban cities. To start with, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Islamabad should do away with archaic, small-scale police stations and replace them with divisions headed by superintendents of police with complete administrative and financial support. This is not downgrading the SPs to the level of traditional station house officers (SHOs) but upgrading a basic police unit to be self-contained with preventive, detective, law and order, traffic and record management systems under the same roof and well managed by a senior officer.
Six, the provincial police commanders should create a pool of SHOs and sub-divisional police officers based on merit and professional competence. This will not only enhance professionalism but also reduce extraneous influences in posting and transfers, a cultural malady.
Seven, there is also a need to create a pool of investigators as this specialised area requires the highest levels of competence and integrity. We should discard the old practice of individual investigating officers dealing with complex cases like blind murders, acts of terrorism and other organised crime. The concept of investigation teams and specialised squads needs to be established.
Eight, crime-scene units should be established in each district/sub-division. A manual for investigators should be prepared that contains checklists of the elements of every offence and the evidence required for indictment.
Nine, district-level committees should be formed to analyse bails granted and acquittals recorded for educating the investigators about the faults found by the courts.
Ten, as a policy, the governments should never condone staged police encounters. Every death caused by police should be independently probed.
Eleven, corrupt and incorrigible police officials should be weeded out through new legislation or by amending and improving the present laws and rules. In removing or dismissing a police official, the IG should be the final executive authority.
Twelve, massive retraining and attitudinal change is required. After suitable needs assessment, training syllabi should be revised. Every rank of police should go through refresher courses, especially designed as pre-promotion mandatory training.
Thirteen, adequate police accommodation should be provided for police officials to live with their families in the cities, districts, sub-divisions and stations where they are posted. Policing is not like the military on the borders. They work for the community and therefore must live within the community they serve.
Fourteen, the working conditions of the police must improve, including eight-hour shifts, weekly day off, overtime allowance, food on duty, transportation facilities and other welfare measures.
This 14-point reform agenda is crucial if we want rule of law to be nurtured and established. Our legislators and politicians must make a choice: do they want to strengthen institutions that play a key role in the administration of justice, or do they want to continue to promote a spoils system of governance wherein weak law enforcement mechanisms will keep capitulating before those who wield influence? Frequent martial laws and military-led controlled democracy have already made us a frail state with a weak democratic edifice. A professional and effective police will eventually mean a strong state and a democratic society where rule of law rather than law of the ruler shall prevail.
This article was previously published in DAWN and it is being republished here with permission.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which he might be associated.