Statistics released by the Rawalpindi Police Force reveal that a shocking 2,300 offenders are on the run, and at least three police precincts have upward of 500 offenders registered with them. These proclaimed offenders are alleged to be involved in heinous crimes ranging from murder to robbery to kidnappings-for-ransom. However, the police seem in no hurry to clamp down on such elements even though it describes them as a “danger to society”.
Investigations by Dawn reveal that the rural suburb is a haven for such offenders where local influential figures provide cover to them. These offenders are able to change their location easily to evade the police, while some of them have stocks of modern weapons that they use to counter police raids.
On May 20, four proclaimed offenders and a policeman lost their lives in an encounter in Chontra that saw the offenders bring out assault rifles and hand grenades. Six other offenders managed to escape despite the heavy police cordon. Sources within the police allege that the offenders were picked up by close aides of an Islamabad-based politician whose farmhouse (dera) is notorious for serving as a safe house for offenders.
One police officer revealed: “The offenders are living there without fear and have considerable clout. They even grab money from local transporters for their spending, and at other times they have them transported to their homes to share a meal with their family at night and then bring them back.”
An ex-police officer who did not want to be named said: “The police need to be quicker in its investigations and should arrest these criminals within a short period of registration of case against them.”
On the part of the police, the exact number of proclaimed offenders has never really been known as police officers put nominal numbers of proclaimed offenders on police record or any progress report sent to the top officers.
When an ex-police officer was asked why the police try to hide the real numbers of proclaimed offenders and are reluctant in capturing them, he replied: “It is because, the rise in number of POs reflects the ‘bad performance’ of police and sometimes the police protect them and avoided re-capturing them due to friendly relations or due to fear of their own life.”
At other times the police avoid nabbing them due to ‘political influence’ because they (the proclaimed offenders) play a vital role in local and national-level elections for them. Other factors behind the rising numbers of proclaimed offenders are lack of courage, obsolete arms and ammunition, lack of modern training and shortage of police officers.
Given the high number of proclaimed offenders on the loose, it isn’t surprising that the crime rate matches it, and citizens are fearful of their lives.
“It has been observed that the complainants of the cases and their witnesses in which a suspect / accused is declared as proclaimed offender by the court of law, feels insecure till the offender is not arrested by the police. At times, these offenders have exacted revenge going to the extent of murdering the complainant and the witnesses of the case,” the ex-police officer said.He also lays the blame on the police for its unethical practices: “If the police conducts a proper investigation in time, and not take bribes from accused, these offenders would be caught much earlier. Right now they are given ample time to escape and vanish from the scene and are ultimately declared proclaimed offenders.”
Police experts believe that the record of proclaimed offenders must be streamlined and corrected as one would notice that the number of proclaimed offenders would have increased to several hundreds which was concealed earlier. It would help the police to chalk out a fresh strategy to launch a successful crackdown against them.
Keeping in view the increase in the population and other resources, the number of police stations needs to be increased so that crime could be controlled in an effective way. “Unless the crime is checked, the number of proclaimed offenders cannot be decreased,” the police expert said and added that presence of police and extensive police patrolling has always been a symbol of deterrence for criminals or proclaimed offenders.
Another senior police officer suggested that a ‘special unit’ comprising well-trained intelligence and field experienced police officers should be formed and their sole task should be to arrest the proclaimed offenders.
Statistics collected from police department suggested that as many as 2300 Proclaimed Offenders had been on ‘wanted’ list of Rawalpindi district police. The table shows the number of proclaimed offenders registered with each police station.