Police should be a force to reckon with

20 October 2015 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The Police are the official arm of the State responsible to protect people and property, make people obey the law, find out about and solve crime, and enforce the law against the people who commit crimes. 

According to the Departmental Orders an OIC of a local Police station is responsible for ensuring proper investigation of crime, maintenance of law and order and take effective preventive action against crime. 

An OIC is also responsible for giving proper instructions to the personnel under him and the maintenance of good discipline. There are others such as ASPs, SSPs, DIGs and IGP who oversee the Police duties for enhancing the rights of the people.

Policing is a unique and demanding career. It is an incredibly – physically and emotionally – stressful job. If we need to take our country forward, as law enforcement officers, Police officers are required to be fully aware of their proper responsibilities towards the people and the country.

In my view, Police officers represent the government in power. How they behave and their conduct effect the good name of the government –in other words Police officers are government representatives for all purposes. It is, therefore, imperative that the Police department should be compelled to live up to the highest possible standards of professional policing. Does this happen?

The “Vision” as it appears in the official web site of the Police – “Towards a peaceful environment to live with confidence, without fear of crime and violence”. 
Can the citizens be happy that the Police have lived up to the “VISION”?. The former Defence Secretary in a speech at the opening of the Sri Lanka Police at Thimbirigaskattuwa, Negombo sometime back had emphasised the urgent need for reorientation of Police functions to suit the current needs of the country after being heavily involved in operations connected with the thirty-year war. According to him the Police personnel had forgotten their role as peace officers owing to their preoccupation with the war.

The former Defence Secretary had also referred to media reports carried practically every day about Police indiscipline, misdeeds, abuse of power, brutal treatment of suspects under arrest and other inadequacies. 

It must also not be forgotten that particularly in the Police Department promotions were never considered by the previous regime without political interference and thrust. I recall a certain Chief Minister openly stating that his policy was to give preference to those belonging to his party. 

The same Chief Minister has alleged  that Police personnel changed overnight similar to changing clothes. It speaks volumes because there have been instances when deserving Police officers could not get their due promotions without political support.

Sri Lanka Police -if they need to raise the standards of the Police force in order to make it a professional Police force and now that the Police Commission has been established-should be provided with good advice and counsel to help them discharge their duties within the law in a consistent manner using the powers and duties, conferred to them by Statutes and specific orders without political interference.

The former Defence Secretary had also pointed out that the Police force must restore its image to play its role efficiently and effectively in reducing, if not eliminating, crime and social indiscipline. 

It is therefore the responsibility of the newly elected government to take meaningful steps in that direction.

Illicit narcotic drug trafficking business, liquor, politicians conniving with unlawful activity such as gemming, sand mining, jungle clearing for giving government lands for political henchmen, and timber felling had continued unabated owing to political patronage during the former government. 

The law enforcement officers should be pressurised to strive to behave ethically – to do the right thing. Can they do it? Do they uncover crime?

Due to poor quality of service of Police personnel, there has been severe criticism for using force or violence. 

A good Police officer should be driven by a strong and sincere motivation to help better other peoples’ lives and situations, protect those who cannot protect themselves and make a positive development in the country.  They should feel a sense of duty and commitment to the community, notwithstanding the inherent risk and dangers of the job. 

The fundamental duties of a Police officer therefore include serving the community; safe-guarding lives and property; protecting the innocent; keeping the peace; and ensuring the rights of all to liberty, equality and justice.

In order to achieve all these objectives, they should perform their duties impartially, without fear or favor, affection or illwill and without regard to status, sex, race, religion or political involvements. In addition, they should also treat all citizens equally, with courtesy, consideration and dignity. The restoration of the Police Commission will no doubt contribute to the upliftment of the image of the Police force. It must be pointed out that the last Parliamentary Elections can be quoted as a good example how to improve the Police force. 

The Commissioner of Elections and the IGP were able to discharge their duties impartially to ensure clean, independent and unbiased elections, because there was no political interference.

It has been revealed that the Police force does not have adequately personnel to man the Police stations scattered all over the country. 

In addition, if the Police Service needs to be improved the principle of meritocracy in recruitment and a better class of recruits will have to be attracted, while retaining capable and dedicated men, and paying them better salaries than at present. 

Most importantly, political interference should be discouraged totally-an essential criterion for the future.

I am extremely fortunate for having had the opportunity to work with a team of excellent Police officers in my present capacity (Secretary to the Presidential Commission) in PRECIFAC. 

I have identified (From an administrative point of view) the team led by ASP Lalith Abeysekera, and Chief Inspector Geethika Bodhipaksha, possess the following core competencies of law enforcement/Investigation officers:
  • Ability to use good judgment and problem solving skills,
  • Capacity for excellent multi-tasking skills,
  • Ability to demonstrate courage and taking up responsibilities,
  • Capacity for engaging in good team work and ability to collaborate,
  • Ability to be resourceful and show initiative,
  • Capacity to demonstrate assertiveness in abundance,
  • Ability to show empathy, diplomacy and compassion

My honest feeling is that the Police force is not short of good, honest and capable officers. They are not being allowed to work independently and majority of the serving Police officers are frustrated. 

The Police force is a neglected because their wages have not been looked into by governments in the past.

The Police take care of numerous duties such as VIP and children, environment protection, vehicular traffic management to name a few. They do not therefore have time to engage themselves on their other legitimate duties. 

Police officers are excessively over-burdened and inadequately paid – these are matters that need to be addressed without delay. 

Criminal Investigation Department is another unique department that has earned a good name having been able to track down offenders and suspects and analyse criminal offences. A Police Sergeant with nearly two decades or more in service does not take even fifteen thousand rupees home at the end of the month, which is extremely low, compared to the pays of other Public Sector employees. 

The Police force is so badly underpaid and they should be paid better if the government intends to take the country forward. 

A Police sergeant told me that he did not have the money to pay the electricity bill out of sympathy; I paid the bill because he has school-going children. 
I am personally aware his wife earns a little extra for the family by making “halapa” and the government must consider a decent salary for the Police officers in the first place.

A Policeman in the course of his duties naturally comes across all types of people in society.
 
In my view, the seniors expect undoubtedly, a young man just over 5’6” dressed in a uniform with a baton and a whistle could perform the duties well – this needs to be changed. 

Men who could be developed to be excellent Police officers cannot be found on highways and byways. They should be carefully sought after. In the past a good athlete or a cricketer or a stout centre-forward was to be preferred to a guy, who possessed higher educational qualifications. 

We should look forward to recruit educated, capable young men to the Police force. Having recruited capable young men, their promotional path should be secured because it was political henchmen who got promotions, when in fact capable, honest, and straight-forward officers stagnated.

The newly established Police Commission must initially take necessary steps to upgrade the Police Department because they are responsible for ensuring a high standard of professionalism. 

Meaningful steps need to be taken to enhance their level of professionalism and competence. 

The Commission should ensure that they dealt firmly when they found Police officers bring discredit to the Police force. 

(To be continued next week)
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