Police reforms

October 15, 2019

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The writer is a former civil servant.
The writer is a former civil servant.

“THE child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” This African proverb is perhaps an apt description of Pakistan’s police. Privately run torture cells, extrajudicial killings, police brutality and a general lack of empathy for the public seem to largely define our police force.

It has often been observed that police officials ask for money for their vehicle’s petrol from a complainant in case they need to travel far for an investigation. They simply don’t have the budget to make such trips on official funds alone. But budget or the lack thereof is not the only problem plaguing our police — from recruitment to training of officers, everything is obsolete. It is the officers who make or break a police force; they motivate the sepoys and subordinates to give their best, to be on their best behaviour and, if officers are found lacking, there is not much of a disciplined force left — which is exactly what has happened with the police in Pakistan in general and Punjab police in particular.

The most recent suggestion for reforming the police is another such attempt to reinvent the wheel by making the police subservient to district administration. Again, such an arrangement, instead of addressing the root cause of the problem, would only be adding another layer of decision-making in matters calling for police action. Also, there is nothing new about this latest suggestion, as this was the case in the Police Act of 1861 until it was replaced by the Police Order in 2002. Sadly, suggestions for reforming the police are always focused on assuming the power that the police force entails rather than truly reforming it.

When investigated, most cases of police high-handedness point to the junior ranks acting on their own, without the consent or approval of their commanding officers. This happens when they feel the officer can be easily manipulated with a concocted story — which is partly true, because the criterion for recruitment of police officers via the CSS examination often ends up with the selection of square pegs for round holes.

Are we recruiting the right people for the job?

Currently, the majority of police officers are recruited via the CSS exam, which means that individuals in their late 20s to early 30s join the force. This system is ill-suited to officer recruitment given the fact that policing is a job that requires a certain aptitude and specific training. A career in the police, just like a career in the military, is a lifestyle that must be inculcated from a young age. Do all those CSS qualifiers who join the police service aspire to join it out of a passion for the job?

A small percentage might have such ideals in mind, but the majority joins it for social prestige, security, safety and impunity — yes, the impunity to do whatever they feel like. A confession of sorts in this regard was recently made by IG Punjab in a meeting with RPOs when, expressing his dismay over the callous attitudes of the field command, he said, “District police officers have to come out of their luxury offices and look at what is happening in the police stations.”

Not only is the recruitment criterion faulty, but what they do with the officers after recruiting them is also, to put it mildly, useless. Training at the civil services academy is redundant for the police service; it has nothing to do with their field. The specialised trainings do not help much either, because these are treated as a mere formality and are thus inadequate. The very fact that there is not even a single dropout in the training phase betrays any claims of training being competitive. Those who are allocated to the police service complete their training without fail and go on to serve till the age of superannuation.

These insufficiently trained officers are, in fact, handicapped; they are mere tools in the hands of the junior ranks. Their authority has not been internalised by the department and those among the junior ranks can easily manipulate them given their knowledge of the internal mechanisms of the department. They are no match for ‘hardened’ subordinates who have been serving in the system for years before them; they are too smart for the educated, sophisticated, studious officer who has landed the position due to academic prowess, which 95 per cent of the time is not even remotely relevant to their job.

The police need to recruit officers at the young age of 18-22 and have them undergo rigorous training on the pattern of the army. For specialised fields, eg investigative units for white-collar crime, there can be lateral recruitment, just like the army recruits doctors, engineers and educationists.

In a nutshell: our police will continue beating suspects to death if we keep beating about the bush by delaying genuine police reforms.

The writer is a former civil servant.

syedsaadatwrites@gmail.com

Twitter: @SyedSaadat52

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2019