‚ÄėStemming the crime wave: The role
of law and society‚Äô
How safe is the society we live in today? The question is surely
one of the questions that would have crossed your mind whether you
are going through the morning newspapers or watching the news on
TV full of reports of crime from all parts of the country.
Islandwide, the number of homicides, rapes,
robberies and other crimes have increased at an alarming rate
causing fear among the people as to the safety and security of the
society they live in.
In addition, the past few years have also seen
an unprecedented increase in organised crime like underworld
killings and contract murders, culminating in a blow at the
judicial system itself with the killing of Justice Sarath
Ambepitiya in 2004.
On the part of the public, the finger is often
pointed at loopholes in the law, weaknesses in the criminal
justice system and the inefficiency of the law enforcement
authorities coupled with corruption, chicanery and other
It is argued that certain legal provisions in
the existing system including those relating to punishment are
inadequate to deal with challenges posed by the present crime
wave, while the police are also constantly blamed for being in
league with prominent underworld figures and liaising with
It is also contended that the functioning of our
law enforcement mechanism sometimes gives the impression that the
law is applicable only to the poor and the underprivileged, while
it is easily manipulated by the rich and powerful for their
On the other hand, the lack of co-operation by
the ordinary public in the prevention of and investigation into
crime is a frequent complaint made by law enforcement authorities
in response to their inability to bring criminals to justice.
Whatever said and done, it is clear that time
has arrived for more stringent measures for combating the
increasing crime rate. It is also clear that in achieving this
objective, the roles of the law makers, the police, the judiciary
and the public are equally important.
What should really be the role and
responsibility of the law and society in stemming the crime wave?
Write to us (in 750-1,000 words) to ‚ÄėDaily News Debate‚Äô, Daily
News, Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited, PO Box 1217,
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Inculcate moral values
corporate effort: In curbing crime two aspects; punitive and
preventive have to be considered. Lately there has been an increase in
crime as well as in the cruelty and employment of ingenious methods in
committing these acts.
In preventing crime various sections of the society have to put in a
corporate effort. It is the duty of the Police and other authorities to
channel the assistance of the public in this regard. All efforts should
be made to find out the root causes of crime and to address these issues
forthwith. Police have to employ new modern technology in preventing and
Legal system should be geared to dispense justice without un due
delays as in the present. We have to review the whole prison set up to
rehabilitate criminals and not to breed more hardened ones inside them.
Corruption among the Police and Prison officials should be dealt with
meticulously at whatever cost. Police should be relieved of such duties
as providing security to politicians at numerous functions.
These extra burdens hinder the efficiency of the Police force. It is
sad to note that some criminal elements receive the patronage of some
politicians in return for their support in election campaigns etc. Army
deserters are involved in certain criminal activities.
One cannot overstress the need to solve the ethnic problem and the
ongoing violence in this regard. Schools have to play an important part
in inculcating moral and religious ideals to the very young children.
The children should be made aware of their duties and rights in a civil
I personally feel that moral education and awareness of law and its
implementation should be made subjects in the school curricula. Early
detection of children with psychological disturbances should be done in
schools. Unfortunately, such children are only given corporal
punishments but not curative therapy.
Co-operation of parents or elders should be obtained in treating
problematic children. It is not a waste of money to utilize more funds
to treat these children who might become criminals in the future and
cause great harm to the society.
More active participation of the clergy is a vital need. The monks in
the temples should not confine themselves to compulsory religious
activities only, but venture out into the village visiting the
households of the Dayakas or lay benefactors.
Even in Daham pasalas in temples undue stress is given to passing
exams rather than inculcating moral values. Constant rapport between the
clergy and the laity is a vital contributory factor in stemming crime.
The sight of monks in yellow robes walking serenely on village paths
would have a sobering effect. Unfortunately even for the short distance
to an alms-giving or to perform the last rites monks have to be provided
Voluntary social organizations can also play an active role in
preventing crime. They should channel the energies of the youth in
organising their activities. More sports and healthy entertainment
programmes should be conducted. It is regrettable that many welfare
societies confine their activities to collecting annual membership and
holding annual general meetings only. More vigilant societies should be
Within a small area such vigilant societies can deter would be
criminals. Whenever there is a spate of criminal activities such
societies become active and then relax without consistent efforts.
Police support and assistance is required to activate such societies.
Services of healthy elders such as retired government officers can be
They should be entrusted with responsibilities and given due regard
and appreciation. It is sad indeed to note that there are numerous
active elders who just waste away their years. Even their advice is not
heeded by those in authority. Even terrorist activities in cities could
be curbed by such vigilant societies.
Massive scale corporate frauds have to dealt with stringently and
promptly. Sadly many of the big fish perpetrators to such crimes have
escaped to foreign lands. Investigations in this regard should be done
efficiently and quickly. Even Interpol assistance should be obtained in
nabbing such culprits.
Their properties should be confiscated so as to recover at least part
of the losses. We cannot certainly overlook rampant bribery and
corruption loopholes in law which enable corrupt individuals to escape,
should be covered forthwith legislatively.
Finally, stemming crime and maintaining law and order is a massive
task which requires the co-operation of all sections of the society and
Crime war rages in Nigeria
armed robbers: The battle between police and armed robbers for
control of Nigerian streets is proving a costly one for both sides.
Flipping through Nigerian newspapers one frequently comes across
headlines like: ‚ÄúPolice, Robbers in Bloody Gun Duel‚ÄĚ, ‚ÄúRobbers on
Rampage Kill Police Chief‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúPolice, Robbers in Midday War - Five
Lagos, the country‚Äôs commercial capital, is the worst hit. Police
statistics show that between August last year and May this year,
criminals killed 273 civilians. Within the same period, they also killed
84 policemen and injured 133 others.
In the past couple of months, criminals have been operating with
impunity, snatching cars on the highways, raiding banks and breaking
into homes. Tough nut The police have been hitting back seeking to curb
the crime wave, but in the first week of July, nine policemen were shot
dead in Lagos alone.
The police are also inflicting serious casualties. There are daily
reports of robbery suspects shot dead during gun battles with the
Those caught alive are paraded together with their weapons before
journalists. But even though police authorities boast they will win the
war against crime, they agree it is a hard nut to crack. This is partly
because thieves often operate in large numbers. Some gangs have as many
as 50 men in them. These gangs also carry sophisticated arms, like AK-47
rifles, and wear bullet proof vests.
It is suspected that some of the gangs that have inflicted the worst
casualties on the police have soldiers in their ranks. This suspicion is
borne out by the arrest of some soldiers and the recovery of military
rifles. In an effort to reduce casualties among its men, police
authorities have given policemen the authority to shoot robbers on
Shoot to kill Lagos police spokesman, Victor Chilaka said: ‚ÄúSince the
number of robbers is increasing like ants and they take joy in killing
police officers, the police has decided to adopt this measure not only
to drastically reduce the growing number of robbers but also to save the
lives of policemen.‚ÄĚ
The shoot on sight order is not without its problems for the police.
On one occasion, police shot and killed five people who they thought
were criminals. But the families of four of them said they were victims
fleeing from robbers. For a police force with a reputation for extra
judicial killings, this incident was one of several public relations
But despite this, Nigerians are becoming more supportive of their law
enforcers such is extent of the crime problem. Vigilantes This growing
crime wave is partly a product of widespread unemployment and a rising
cost of living. For many desperate and unemployed youths, robbery
appears the only avenue left open to them to make a living.
The situation is worsened by the ready availability of small arms
like rifles and pistols. In some neighbourhoods young men are teaming up
with the police to help fight crime. Muri Adesanya, whose Bariga
neighbourhood in Lagos has been subjected to repeated attacks, says:
‚ÄúThe robbers are a common enemy.‚ÄĚ
But in a worrying trend, others are taking the law into their own
hands. Attacks by vigilantes on suspects with stones and sticks are
common and some end with the ‚Äúnecklace treatment‚ÄĚ. A tyre doused with
petrol is put around the neck of the suspect who is subsequently set on
fire. In one instance, five alleged bank robbers were burnt to death
Breaking the criminal-police nexus in Sri Lanka
A crime scene investigation
criminals: In romantic notions where the world is divided between
good guys and bad guys, the underworld is responsible for crimes, and
the police are responsible for fighting back. A black world of criminals
is pitted against a force of white angels. This notion of crime, brought
to us through popular magazines and film, however does not exist.
The real cause of crime in Sri Lanka is the nexus between police
officers and criminals. This nexus consists of simple and complex
exchanges such as taking bribes to permit illegal trade in alcohol or
other illicit goods, or desisting from investigating crimes and
Others involve much greater profits, as when drugs are traded. Others
still include joint operations between criminals and police officers
bent on committing crimes.
Without this nexus, many crimes could not be committed, or if
committed, would soon be exposed, while with this nexus, most crimes are
readily committed, and become almost impossible to expose. Any real
world discussion on how to prevent crime must address this nexus as its
Why does the nexus exist?
Police links offer criminals the opportunity to earn greater profits.
Criminal links offer police officers access to financial gains and other
resources far beyond their limited salaries. And the reward are shared
across all ranks.
The few officers who decline to become involved may themselves be
victimised by others who are cooperating closely with criminals. Such
officers - even those holding high ranks - find it difficult to fight
the nexus, attempts to impose discipline causing them serious trouble.
The overall effect of this nexus is anarchy, with lawlessness
pervading many parts of Sri Lanka. And now even the middle and affluent
classes, no longer just the poor, are feeling the effects of this
ominous nexus. In fact, the country may well be on the brink of a
catastrophe far beyond anything faced before.
Who polices the police?
Nobody. At present, the criminal justice system lacks the means to
investigate police officers. Even relatively narrow inquiries into
police wrongdoing cause strong backlashes by police, including
threatened strike action.
During recent times, witnesses in criminal torture cases against
policemen have been subjected to threats, attacks, and most recently,
murder. The police officers allegedly involved have been able to use the
unique combination of their authority and links to the underworld to
obstruct investigations into their transgressions.
Attempts at any serious action to counter the nexus often encounter
obstacles. Apart from threatening to strike at attempts to impose
discipline, even minor attempts at limited action by the National Police
Commission (NPC) have been seriously resisted on the ground that these
steps would hinder crime prevention. Such rhetoric barely conceals open
defiance of discipline.
Some senior police officers are now talking of a ‚Äėbalance‚Äô, which
means downplaying the importance of discipline. Business must be allowed
to go on as usual they say, lest the minimally functioning police system
Thus senior officers are frightened away from dealing with the nexus.
They are even afraid to take disciplinary action in minor cases. In
short, a systemic paralysis prevents the possibility of addressing the
Can the death sentence prevent crime?
We could instead ask, would society agree to execute large numbers of
its police? The same persons who readily say yes to the first question
would stop short of replying ‚Äėyes‚Äô to the second. The reason is that in
proposing the death sentence the objective is not in fact to prevent
crime, but to avoid having to address the nexus that is its progenitor.
Increasing crime provokes social insecurity. But people need to feel
safe. So the easy way out is to exaggerate the powers of the hangman to
mythical proportions. The public is asked to believe that when the death
sentence is reactivated, crime will magically disappear.
Such disingenuous solutions appear most often in response to dramatic
crimes, such as the killing of a High Court Judge. However, no victim of
crime will really believe that the hangman is a saviour, or a means to
prevent further crime.
Is there another way to prevent crime?
The answer to this question depends largely upon the extent to which
citizens are willing to speak openly. Among those issues that need to be
addressed are the following:
1. The weaknesses of the police hierarchy, must be fully exposed.
This effort should concentrate on how to establish the rule of law and
provide a functioning and disciplined police service. Rhetorical
commitment to people friendly policies and the like should be condemned
as hypocrisy unless accompanied by strong measures to break the
2. The management of criminal investigations through police stations
should be abandoned in favour of special unit investigations. This will
allow inquiries to be carried out by competent officers. It will also
weaken the links between local police and criminals.
At present, some officers-in-charge of police stations have the
status of petty warlords. Some, judging by their records, are habituated
criminals; some can even be characterised as serial killers. Also,
promotion to OIC seems an invitation to get rich quick. Therefore,
breaking the nexus will require significant changes. Keeping police
stations functioning as they are now will only encourage further crime.
3. The Attorney General must also be given greater control over
criminal investigations. Currently the AG is heavily dependent on police
investigators. Therefore, to successfully counteract the negative
effects on investigations by the criminal-police nexus, the role of the
AG must be enhanced.
And the best way to do this is to create a Prosecutor General‚Äôs
office for criminal prosecutions. This requires a political decision.
There are vast differences between political bluff and genuine political
decisions to resolve serious problems. To talk of the hangman‚Äôs mythical
powers and not to create an effective Prosecutor General‚Äôs office with
strong powers and resources amounts to mere political bluff.
4. A strong witness protection programme with sufficient resources
for its effective functioning is a must. In the absence of security,
complainants and witnesses live in fear and are reluctant to cooperate
to ensure the proper administration of justice. Such fear can only be
laid to rest through a well-publicised and highly effective witness
Thailand has recently taken the initiative to establish a witness
protection office, and a number of victims of police abuse have been the
first to benefit from it. It is hoped this will set a strong precedent.
The Sri Lankan authorities could study this model, particularly in
light of the recent killings of complainants in criminal cases, like the
killing of Gerald Perera, some customs officers and other state
officers, and even the killing of a judge. All of these were made
possible due to the lack of an adequate witness protection programme.
5. The judiciary must take a degree of responsibility in regulating
itself. There had been too many unresolved question about the judiciary.
The Bar Association is also beset by constant public scandals that it
has been unable or unwilling to address.
Judges are now subjected to threats of death, rape or otherwise
partly because of the low esteem in which the public holds the judiciary
and the legal profession.
Hence these institutions must face up to this challenge. If the Bar
Association proves incapable of doing so, and even goes to the extent of
being a political stooge, then lawyers must take matters into their own
In fact, public liberties in Sri Lanka to a large part now depend
upon the willingness of lawyers to rebel against widespread
maladministration of justice. Some self-interested lawyers in powerful
positions will inevitably oppose efforts at serious reform; however,
they and their cohorts must be overcome to break the restraints on
reform from within. It is indeed sad that senior members of the bar have
woefully failed the young.
6. The National Police Commission should strongly assert its
prerogative to take disciplinary control of the police as required by
the constitution. Recently, elements in the police hierarchy, some
officers‚Äô unions and politicians have severely pressured it not to
strongly assert this role.
However, as the NPC was brought about by the public pressure that
gave rise to the 17th Amendment it is duty-bount to speak frankly to the
public regarding its problems.
7. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) of Sri Lanka can play an
enormously important role in this regard. Unfortunately, it has not yet
gone beyond expressing nice words about human rights protection.
It is time that civil society encouraged the HRC to critically
examine itself and become a visible force in the battle for the rule of
law. Indeed, the commission should be at pains to influence policy in
the areas aforementioned, notably establishing and effectively managing
a witness protection programme.
If there were a strong HRC in Sri Lanka undertaking such a role,
Gerald Perera would not be dead today. And many others like him would
not be facing severe harassment and intimidation.
The writer is Executive Director, Asian Human Rights Commission