IGPs see political interference as bane of policing in Punjab

Published February 22, 2021
The think tank of senior police officers from the Police Service of Pakistan (PSPs) vehemently professed their commitment to police reforms. — AP/File
The think tank of senior police officers from the Police Service of Pakistan (PSPs) vehemently professed their commitment to police reforms. — AP/File

LAHORE: While preparing a draft of reforms, a think tank of serving and retired inspector generals of police (IGPs) has pointed out a set of key problems, mainly the chronic political interference in police’s operational matters, and argued that these issues have been hindering mega reforms in the decades-old police system in Punjab.

They believe that since inception, the approach of the police has largely been crime-centric i.e. to curb crime, rather than to facilitate the public.

The think tank of senior police officers from the Police Service of Pakistan (PSPs) vehemently professed their commitment to police reforms and prepared a draft of recommendations for the higher authorities in Punjab. They had joined heads under the “Police Awam Saath Saath Programme” jointly launched by the Punjab police and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). The objective was to create a roadmap for reforms to transform ‘Punjab police into a citizen-centric police service’.

Serving and retired police officers recommend changes to reform police

For this purpose, the think tank of the senior police officers was divided into three working groups/committees. Among the retired IGPs are Tariq Pervez, Shaukat Javed, Chaudhry Iftikhar, Chaudhry Yaqoob and Ahsan Ghani.

A part of the recommendations seems to have been drafted while pointing out the ‘chronic political interference’ that has inflicted dent to the police autonomy and independence.

“Police officers are being ruled by a lot of masters at a time and divide of power is inappropriate,” reads the draft document.

“We have identified and discussed the following areas to set a stage for finding viable solutions and drafting recommendations for improving the citizen experience under the Citizen-Centric Policing initiative,” reads the well-prepared draft of proposals.

A group pointed out that a lack of leadership at every level in police, misuse of power by police officials, unnecessary favors provided by the police officers to those in power and disproportionate allocation of funds have also been other impediments hindering the capacity building and performance of police.

The group proposed amendment to existing performance evaluation criteria from crime, statistics, arrests, seizures, etc. to citizen satisfaction, feedback, approval, consent, participation and inclusivity.

It also recommended introduction of a 360-degree performance appraisal system where both police officials as well as citizens can evaluate each other’s conduct anonymously, a digital feedback system with better monitoring and evaluation methods and 8-10-hour shift system is to be followed strictly.

The other committee titled ‘Improving citizens experience’ stated that though there has been an emphasis on police reforms, there remains a disconnect between understanding the needs of the public and how those can be met through effective policies transcribed for the police personnel serving the people.

It discussed how difficult it was especially for the marginalized socioeconomic groups to register an FIR.

“The police being used as a tool of oppression by the ruling elites makes it harder for people without political or financial influence to file an FIR with the police,” the committee said.

Many members recounted personal experiences where a powerful person was involved in a crime but due to their position and influence not only were they able to use police in their favor but also block the provision of swift justice to the aggrieved.

The pressure to have a lower crime rate in their respective areas puts junior officers in a difficult position where they were hesitant to register FIR. The members of the group pointed out that the long working hours detached the police personnel from society.

This not only limits their interaction with the community but also makes them resort to violence and harsher torture techniques during an investigation.

“Another issue that repeatedly came up during this session was the lack of respect shown by the police while dealing with the public,” said the committee.

It discussed behavioral change in the police personnel and proposed more focus on this area to win trust and confidence of the public.

Talking about illegal detention and 3rd-degree methods, the committee was of the view that a 2019 Human Rights report published by the State Department highlighted the issue of human rights abuse by the police. According to it, the torture inflicted under police custody has affected 82 people that year (killing 29 persons and injuring 38).

It also pointed out registration of fake FIRs as another major problem the citizens have been suffering when the police department was used to register false cases.

“The committee discussed how fake rape and kidnapping cases are registered to intimidate or punish opponents,” reads the draft document.

It has highlighted lack of resources engaging the police personnel in unlawful acts, harassment of vulnerable groups, psychological issues of policemen etc.

The third group focused on the women role in police and gender-inclusivity in all spheres of life.

All the committee members pointed out the lack of implementation of the rule of having 15% women in the workforce,” reads the draft.

It said with India at 4%, Maldives at 9%, Pakistan ranks lowest in the region with less than 3% of the police workforce being women.

While some attributed it to the stigma around being part of the police service, a few others emphasised on the lack of unsafe environment that most of the citizens as well as female officers feel at the police stations.

The discussion shed light on the lack of mechanisms and processes in place to address problems such as workplace harassment and how the experience of the junior cadre differ significantly from that of PSP officers.

The panel shed light on the possible reasons for this exclusion and how, with the youth bulge the country is facing, there’s a lot of potential for young women to join the police force.

However, before that, the challenges associated with induction need to be assessed, the group argued.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2021

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