THE move by the Karachi police to allow citizens to register online complaints that can be converted into First Information Reports appears to be a step in the right direction, promoting openness and access.
The move replicates a similar project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where, unfortunately, the experiment has not been very encouraging, owing in part to low computer literacy. One hopes the move in Karachi proves more successful, and that apart from recording citizens’ grievances the registering of complaints gives a broader picture of the nature and extent of crime that infests this mega city.
However, there are points to be considered. The principal issue that the police are trying to respond to is the widespread complaint that the processing of registering an FIR at a police station is cumbersome, fraught with politics and involves bribery.
An online registration system will bypass the need to interface directly with the police, at least at the initial step of the complaint registration process. But what then? As explained by the Karachi police chief himself at a ceremony to launch the online portal on Friday, the police will have to vet every single one of the complaints to determine which are genuine and which are fake.
Are there measures in place that will stop the police from simply transferring the system of harassment of complainants to the next step, the one at which the police will determine whether or not to investigate a complaint? It is here that liaising with the CPLC and allowing them access to the complaints is important.
Meanwhile, broader police reforms are what all provincial governments need to look into. What is really needed to make the police more responsive to the needs of the citizenry is a two-fold process: depoliticisation and independent accountability.
The National Public Safety Commissions proposed during the Musharraf era may be anathema to many politicians because the idea emanated from a military regime, but the idea was a sound one, and precisely what is used in jurisdictions around the world where the police are considered an ally of the citizens, not a presumptive enemy.
The idea in essence is to have a forum where the public can go to register complaints against the police that are independently and competently investigated and where redress can be ensured. But for that to happen and for the police to be transformed into a force that truly works for the public good, depoliticisation must be effected.
Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2014