THE debate on the kind of weapons that police personnel should use is back. A special committee set up by the Supreme Court to probe the death of 10-year-old Amal Umer, who was killed by police fire during a mugging attempt in Karachi last August, has come up with its findings. The committee has recommended that police personnel engaged in patrolling the streets must not be armed with heavy weapons such as submachine guns. The police have been told that they should have on them pistols or handguns instead. There is, of course, the argument that a force that is armed lightly in comparison to criminals who carry sophisticated weapons cannot be expected to deliver and may suffer from a sense of ineptness. But should this apply across the board? Should the police be turned into a militarised force? Would it not be better for the law enforcers and intelligence agencies to clamp down on the source of supply of these illegal weapons? True, there are urban areas, eg parts of Lyari in Karachi, where running battles between the law enforcers and violent criminal gangs have not been uncommon. But the policing tactics applied there should not extend to street crimes, especially when there is a high risk to civilians. Hence, stringent measures are needed to rule out a repeat of what happened in the city last August, which was initially presented as ‘collateral damage’.
The discussion on police reforms is not a new one — and certainly this is as good a time as any for a major cleanup of the policing system. Stressing the need for a highly trained police force, the report pointed out that officers do not avail of refresher courses, surely one of the reasons why they lack effective marksmanship and are often described as trigger-happy. Above all, there has to be some rationalisation about what weapon is entrusted in whose hands and under what circumstances. Otherwise, there will be no end to tragedies like the one that claimed little Amal’s life.
Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2019