The need for police reforms

Effective systems of accountability and redress for grievances are crucial in order to transform the police from a repressive institution into a service that impartially protects lives and properties

Pakistan is in the midst of overhauling its notoriously corrupt police force, known mainly for its dismal levels of trust among ordinary citizens. According to the Police Order 2002, police is a service not a force. Police play a crucial role in democratic system by ensuring safety, security and stability in the society.

Crime rates and complexity have increased over the years, adding a new dimension to the responsibilities and duties of the police. The current Pakistani police system is the legacy of the British government on the subcontinent. The police functions in the British era were different from those after independence. After independence, Pakistan had adopted the most inclusive and comprehensive constitution to protect the welfare of its citizens. However, the police department responsible for enforcing public order has not been overhauled as yet.

A number of reforms are required to make police transparent, unbiased, dedicated, social and public service, accountable and non politicised.

The security of the society and the welfare of the people is dependent on the efficiency of the police. Undue political interference which led to the loss of autonomy of police needs to be eliminated on an urgent basis. It is mandatory to instil the confidence of the people in the institution of police by making the department more people oriented and people friendly. Extrajudicial killings in staged encounters by the police have become very common over the past few years. This highhandedness of police needs to be controlled.

Inadequate funding is a major challenge to police performance at the grassroots level because of lack of proper infrastructure and maintenance of buildings, weapons and vehicles

According to the latest surveys, the police force is considered as the most corrupt institution of Pakistan. It is important to reflect on the reasons as to why this institution is corrupt. Many Pakistani police officers enter law-enforcement not because of a genuine interest in becoming part of the system, but because of ulterior motives. Some join police force for their monetary gains, grabbing power and to show off their authority in the wrong way to protect the rich businessmen and politicians.

They exploit and deteriorate the image of police and even become a security threat for the common people. The recent encounter incident in Karachi has revealed the true colours of the most authoritarian officials of the police. SSP Rao Anwar killed a citizen who had no criminal background. He was a simple educated and legal Pakistani citizen. The powerful police official took the plea that Naeeb Ullah was terrorist so police killed him in an encounter.

Police kill people in fake encounters and later justify it as act of self defence or a means of preventing suspects escaping from custody. According to a report of Human Rights Watch, thousands of citizens in Pakistan are killed extra-judicially every year. The justification which is provided by the ‘encounter specialists’ is that an encounter killing is seen as a way of ensuring that a known criminal does not escape justice because of lack of evidence and witnesses.

Police also lack the requisite resources including financial resources and manpower. Poor infrastructure, loopholes in the criminal justice system and interference and influence from internal and external sources are some of the factors that have blocked the way of reforms. All of these challenges pose impediment to the Pakistani police’s ability to enforce law and order in a manner consistent with human rights, and free from corruption and influence.

Police are extensively considered as among the most abusive, corrupt, and unaccountable institutions of Pakistan. Effective systems of accountability and redress for grievances are crucial in order to transform the police from a repressive institution into a service that impartially protects lives and properties.

Capacity within the police should be improved. This may be through focused training to keep pace with the changing nature of crime and prevention techniques, or the creation of IT infrastructure for tracking cases to tackle delays due to mounting pendency. It will also require investment in management techniques, soft skills, new technology, and building of databases to allow for seamless access to information, among other heads.

Inadequate funding is a major challenge to police performance at the grassroots level because of lack of proper infrastructure and maintenance of buildings, weapons and vehicles. Little to no funding is allocated for the maintenance of police stations, patrolling, stationery or utility bills. Investigation deficit includes poor training, delays in access to communication intercepts, insignificant forensic support and poor supervision.

The approximate cost of investigation is insufficient to meet legitimate charges incurred during investigations. It is true that many young police officers lose their idealism early in their careers, because of fear of vengeful politicians or disloyal subordinates. They, therefore, become deadwood, which the force cannot get rid of without prolonged litigation. The fears of proactive and dedicated officers about reprisal over honest action against powerful men in society and politics are well-known.

But how long will the citizen be satisfied with a non-performing police force? This is the question we should ask ourselves while discussing police reforms. It is not as if this is a problem that has suddenly come upon the police. It has only ballooned in recent times because of growing lawlessness promoted by big money and all that goes with it. Unless there is self-correction within the police, a process initiated by the top officials and their aides. Just as there are many bright spots in the police forces, there is an equal number of enlightened elements in our polity, who are willing to listen to the police’s woes.

 

The writer is PhD Scholar in Media and Crime, he can be reached at fastian.mentor@gmail.com

Published in Daily Times, January 25th 2018.