Reforming the Police


Syed Usama Shirazi

ONCE asked a boy who just submitted his application form for the post of constable: ‘’Why do you want to join the police?’’ He replied that people around him would be scared when he wear the police uniform. This is not only the case of low-level employees. Many who come through the competitive exams have the same mentality that by joining PSP, theycan create their supremacy in society. The debate of police reforms has once again come to limelight since the tragic incident happened in Rahim Yar Khan, wherein a man accused of larceny was allegedly tortured to death by police. His videos when he was breaking the ATM, begging for water in the police station and then pictures of his dead body went viral on social and mainstream media. This created a fierce public outrage and raised many questions on the whole police system, particularly, its Thana culture. Use of coercive methods while investigating the suspects is not new and Salahudin is not the first victim. According to a report of Justice Project of Pakistan (JPP), only in Faisalabad, from 2006 to 2012, 1867 cases of police torture were examined wherein the suspects had become the victim of the notorious investigation mechanism. Many of them had succumbed to the injuries. The most vulnerable group of the police brutality is from age 25 to 40. Even the younger and old age suspects have no exemption to this torture.
In the past, many efforts to reform the police service were carried out but all have gone in vain and police stand where our colonial masters left it in 1947. The whole police system needs overhauling, but, without liberating it from the patronage of vested interests, every effort towards reformation would be counterproductive. All the initiatives taken in the past were not intended to reform the police rather make it subservient to the ruling elite. In fact police have become a right hand of all ruling elite including political patronages, venal capitalists, agriculturists, military establishment, landlords and tribal chieftains. They use this force to maintain their supremacy in society. Secondly, the change of notorious Thana culture which is legacy of colonial India has become a Herculean task. Half of police work would be done if people start cooperating with investigation officers as their social responsibility. But, it would be possible only when people-friendly police stations are established, where staff trained and developed on moral grounds deal the people. Unfortunately, our police stations have become prohibited areas especially for women, youth, minorities, and other vulnerable groups. To change Thana culture, it is imperative to redesign the recruitment and selection system. Federal Public Service Commission and almost all provincial commissions recruit and select the candidates for key institutions through the same process once the colonial masters would use in the subcontinent. By passing a single MCQs based paper, in majority cases which are designed to check the memory of candidates, one can easily secure a sensitive job which demands a psychologically stable person. The psychological assessments are carried out after qualifying the written part but no weight is given to these assessments. It means if a candidate clears the written part with distinction, his/her selection can be easily secured. To screen out ill-minded candidates who join this service just to secure social prestige, a system like that of Army’s inter-service selection board is required. In this system psychological assessments would play major role in selection and rejection of the candidates and ensure right person for the right job.
Thirdly, due to the lack of vibrant training and development system, our police officers are unable to perform complex tasks. The anachronistic general training program is carried out in police academies without focus on specialization. The individual-centred specialized training program for each special unit should be designed and implemented separately. Secondly, to develop officials for the future needs, public-private cooperation is mandatory, where officers would be sent to the private institutions and universities to update their skills according to the need of time. To build a robust training and development system we can get input from corporate sector. But, again all these initiatives demand sufficient financial resources and strong political will, while we are lacking in both. Fourthly, without just and effective compensation and benefit system, reforming police is a utopian dream. Police officers work under grim conditions without having basic facilities. The plight of the workplace and lacking basic amenities mentally disturb them. Unnecessary workload, intense political pressure, apprehensions of family’s security, pressure of society, limited social life and meagre salaries make them psychological patient which result in incidents like that of Salahudin’s. Their compensation and other benefits should be increased as their job is more difficult and sensitive than any other government institution.
Unfortunately, the performance of police officers is appraised and manipulated by their political patronages. Transfers and postings are usually done on the whims of the ruling elite. This has made police system subservient to their patronages and snatched its autonomy, impartiality and prestige. So, the linchpin of the reforms should be the de-politicization of police that requires a strong political will and it could be possible only when public consistently remind Imran Khan of his promises. Secondly, once the de-politicization is done, effective performance management and appraisal system should be introduced. 360-degree performance appraisal system wherein the performance of an employee is measured and appraised both horizontally and vertically can resolve many issues. This can identify the officers’ strengths and weaknesses and help them to polish the former and overcome the latter. It is not wrong to say that our police system is replete with ignorant, corrupt and apathetic officials whose bellies are bloated with black money, but, we also have many honest and brave officers whose careers are crystal clear. We should not forget the sacrifices of police especially the KP police in the fight against terrorism. The generalization of the individual’s act over the whole institution cannot be justified. After all, police are part of our society and their behaviour is reflection of our collective mindset.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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