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Unrealistic public expectations from police

January 22, 2011

THE police, as envisaged by the 1860 Commission, were not the people's police: their function was to keep the people down. It was probably this image that has persisted all these years.

Even fiercer criticism has been hurled at the police: no other government department has been subjected to so much ridicule and abuse as the police in the subcontinent.

The fault lies with both the police and the pubic. The public is accustomed to violating the law because of its lack of discipline, and when the police challenge any individual or a group of persons' 'right to call the law', the people retaliate with exaggerated criticism where the fact is almost mixed with fiction and fabricated to launch a violent, tormenting, terrorising propaganda campaign through demonstrations, protests and the media.

Today, there is an intense interest in senior officials of the police. There are the 'darling' of the establishment and, at the same time, a bete noir of the people, a cause of frustration and violence, and sine qua non of liberty, an instrument of social control, an embodiment of oppression and shame and pride of the nation.

In fact, it is almost impossible to describe the contemporary police scene without seeming to convey a derogatory hostile anti-police message. The media sees little good in what the police do and few people try to fathom the reasons for their poor performance.

Today, the position of the police has become more difficult because if they come into conflict with the 'perpetrators of injustice, oppression, extremism and violence' and 'control' them efficiently, they are criticised for using violence against harmless citizens. If they fail to nip rioting in the bud, they are blamed for inefficiency. If they fail to check 'anarchical' crime, their failure is at once commented upon in bitter terms.

The policemen are not looked upon as friends of peaceful citizens: they are potential oppressors. The fact is that the policemen have to watch out for possible attacks on them. Their hands are tied, and their salary is meagre. Furthermore, they are in constant danger of being shot at, beaten up, killed or kidnapped.

Today a major problem that the police encounter is unrealistic public expectations. It is because the public has developed bloated expectations about the capabilities of the police, in spite of the fact that the police have to prevent and detect crime and maintain law and order, safeguard property and human life in the following three ways:

1. To prevent crime through patrolling and other techniques of social surveillance.

2. To identify and apprehend persons who commit or have committed a crime.

3. To keep the level of physical disorder in public places to tolerable ends.

Unfortunately, corruption occupies a permanent place in society and continues to loom large over the police too. It is a persistent and practically ubiquitous aspect of society and there are individuals who find the rewards of corruption greater than the satisfaction of legitimate behaviour: the system in vogue and the pay structure supports this phenomenon.

Today, the police are confronted with the delicate task of handling this explosive problem of corruption. These are historical facts and give birth to unrealistic expectations of the public for the police.

ABDUL RAZZAK ARAIN Chairman, Ex-Police Officials Awareness & Welfare Society, Pakistan