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Police and the public

We have written extensively on the Police Department in these columns, offering praise where praise is due whilst also being critical of misdemeanours and shortcomings of the Department. We are again compelled to revive the subject of the Police in view of a remark made by IGP Jayantha Wickremaratne that public confidence in the police was at a low ebb.

Speaking at a function the Police Chief said “there is no point in denying the fact that the people have lost confidence in the law enforcement due to negligence on our part”. He specially referred to the complaint that the police were slow to respond to calls on the Emergency Hotline 119 despite the wide publicity given to this facility.

The remark also comes in the wake of serious incidents of rape and child molestation brought against two police officers. This frank admission by the Police Chief on the shortcomings of his Department is unprecedented and hopefully would mark the beginning in the cleaning of the Augean stables.

The IGP’s message it is hoped would seep down to the rank and file in the Department leading to a radical transformation of the Police Department. True, the role of the Police has undergone a radical change over the years, particularly over the past two decades. The Police Department in recent times has been playing a major role in combating terrorism.

The Department which was earlier essentially a law enforcement arm has undergone a sea of change with the advent of the terrorist problem. Today it has to handle local crime while addressing national security concerns. The members of the Police and its elite arm the STF sacrifice their lives in the theatre of war and are also subjected to the tensions experienced by the members of the Security Forces.

Thus the Police have to undertake the chief mission of combating local crime and affording protection to the civilian population while having an eye on security matters. This has been brought about due to prevailing exigencies. One has also to concede that the Police Department too had been sucked into the vortex of the free wheeling culture that all State institutions and enterprises were subject to with the advent of liberalisation heralded by the open economy.

The recent ranking of the Police Force among the leading Government institutions for bribery certainly does not bring credit to a force which was held in awe and respect not so long ago. The politicisation of the force too has had its downside over the years which is another reason for its gradual loss of esteem among the public.

This is by no means an indictment of the Police Force as a whole. There are still dedicated officers who are committed to the lofty principles of the Police Force as a law enforcement body dedicated to serve the public. Some of the acts of gallantry which regularly appear in the Peoples’ Forums in the newspapers bear this out in ample measure.

What has to be done by the IGP is to build on this act of goodwill to elevate the police Department to the position it once enjoyed. He should take measures to bring respect to the uniform which alas has taken a nosedive in recent times.

Deterrent punishment should be meted out to those who have strayed and brought disgrace to the Police Department. All measures should be taken to weed out the undesirables who had sullied the name of the Department. Such disciplinary action should receive the widest publicity so that it would not only help hound out the bad eggs but also restore public confidence in the force.

Above all the Police Department should be made to function essentially as a civilian law enforcement unit if it is to be brought closer to the public.

The Police cannot function efficiently sans public cooperation. In this respect the Department should promote more public relations exercises without confining these to Avurudhu events so that this bond would be further cemented.

The IGP’s decision to engage academic institutions to suggest improvements to the Police Department is also a move in the right direction.

This, while providing inputs to enable the Police Department to function as a civilian unit could also suggest areas of improvement to the Department and areas of interaction with the public.


 

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