ANOTHER life, this time that of a 10-year-old girl named Amal was recently snuffed out when policemen fired at criminals fleeing after robbing the child’s family at a traffic light in Karachi. As is the wont of law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) everywhere, they closed ranks and denied involvement. Thankfully, media pressure and better sense prevailed and the catastrophic mistake was accepted. Amal will not come back. The void in her family’s hearts will never be filled. However, all efforts must be made to reduce the chances of such tragedies occurring again.
The Sindh Police is reportedly considering replacing the assault weapons carried by patrolling personnel with handguns — the 9mm variant to be more precise. On the face of it, this may seem like a sensible thing to do. Even in the worst of times, it is not like every nook and corner of the country was faced with Lyari-like gang warfare or militant insurgency as witnessed in parts of KP and adjacent tribal areas where LEA personnel routinely confronted rocket and machine gun fire.
We are talking about people’s lives.
Without going into the details of why the baton- and the occasional First World War variety .303 rifle-carrying LEA personnel all of a sudden required assault weapons like the Kalashnikov as the country got embroiled in the Afghan ‘jihad’ in the late ’70s, suffice to say it did not significantly improve the LEA’s efficacy.
Regardless of the type of weapon it is fired from, a bullet can end a human life. It is the mix of circumstances like the organ that it hits, the time it takes to get the victim to the hospital, and the quality of emergency care, that determines the chances of survival.
If anything can guarantee a decrease in the probability of such incidents, it is training, training and more training of LEA personnel. It does not matter how large or small the weapon is; those wielding it to ensure the writ of the law must be trained in its usage thoroughly. They must be mentally and physically fit to do so. Understanding the need for such training is the easier part. Ensuring such rigorous and continuous training requires re-prioritisation of public policy.
Let us take the hardware first. We will not get into the debate that LEAs in many developed countries are having right now, that is whether the 9mm has sufficient ‘stopping power’. We will just assume it will have to do. A reasonably good quality 9mm handgun should be within the price range of Rs100,000, considering the government will procure it in bulk. Let us suppose there are only 10,000 personnel in Sindh who perform actual policing duties whose weapons need to be replaced. This alone will come to a whopping billion rupees. Wait! This is just the beginning. At the very least, 1,000 rounds are required to be fired with a weapon before the handler can control the recoil (rebound) and the flinch. This is just to be able to shoot straight, not accurately.
At an average, a round of 9mm should cost around Rs100. So another billion rupees are required just by way of introduction between the weapon and the shooter.
Anyone who thinks this is extravagant needs to be introduced to ‘muscle memory’, an imperative concept for accurate shooting. One may get by with less than the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers claims can help anyone master anything from playing the piano to competitive shooting, but not by much.
The Sindh Police and LEAs everywhere in the country must make these choices very carefully. Each time you switch the standard issue weapon, this entire process of training will have to be repeated. Remember we are talking about people’s lives here.
Moreover, we have only considered the LEAs in this piece. What about the hundreds of thousands of private security guards, mostly armed with shotguns? It’s a good thing they hardly ever use them, because if they did, mostly bystanders would pay the price. Then you have the private militias that self-important people travel with. It’s another good thing that nobody so much as wants to spit in their sahib’s direction because if these goons were to fire their automatic weapons, countless innocent lives would surely be lost.
The Sindh Police website displays a textbook of sorts, entitled Police Knowledge Book. Spread over 100 pages, the book begins with a chapter called ‘Security’. It then enumerates various types of security, ie ‘VVIP, VIP, important places, and important documents’. To rub it in, the VVIPs and VIPs are listed as ‘PM, president, foreign heads of state, emperor, empress, queen, prince, princess, CMs, governors, ministers, chief justices, heads of armed forces, chief secretaries, and speaker’. No reference whatsoever to protecting the public. Pray that 10-year-old girls are covered under the rubric of ‘princesses’.
The writer is a poet and analyst.
Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2018