AN unprecedented move has been made to weed out corrupt cops in Punjab. On the provincial IGP’s instructions, 61 SHOs with ‘tainted records’ have been suspended from service and removed from their posts. Most of the personnel concerned were posted in Faisalabad, Lahore, Sheikhupura and Kasur.

In an official letter to senior police officials across the province, the IG had ordered that SHOs who had been challaned in criminal cases be removed while those against whom criminal cases were registered should be suspended. Further, he said, SHOs who had been awarded three or more major departmental punishments should be transferred within the next 48 hours and not appointed as SHOs in future.

There has been some opposition from within the police to this course of action. A report in this paper quoted some cops describing the move as a “gimmick”; they have questioned why the action was limited to SHOs rather than being applied across the board from the constable to the IG level.

According to them, many senior officials too have far from pristine service records. Some cops have complained that police are also falsely implicated in criminal cases on political grounds or by local pressure groups. These concerns may be valid to a certain extent, and a departmental inquiry into the affected cops’ alleged criminal records should be undertaken, but at least a beginning has been made.

Punjab’s notorious thana culture has been sent a message that it is no longer business as usual where law-abiding citizens often have reason to fear approaching law-enforcement. Police stations in Punjab — although other provinces, especially Sindh, are not much better — under the direct command of the SHO concerned, have an appalling record of torture in custody (sometimes resulting in the detainee’s death), bribery, fake encounters, etc.

However, until an effective public complaints mechanism is set up, the yawning trust deficit between citizens and police for reasons mentioned earlier will be impossible to bridge. People have suffered for too long at the hands of an unaccountable police drunk on their own power. A few dozen suspensions/dismissals of SHOs are not enough to stem the rot.

Depoliticisation of the police is another critical requirement for improving its performance. The fact is, the thana culture does not exist in isolation: it is enabled by political interference in police transfers and postings. The cops know whom they are serving — and far too often, it is not the people.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2021

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