Reforming the police
The rising incidents of
indiscipline within the country's law enforcement has compelled
President Mahinda Rajapaksa to read the riot act. The President
is only too well aware that the fund of goodwill currently
enjoyed by his regime would suffer a great reversal by such
unseemly conduct by any arm of the State.
That he has decided to come down hard on the country's Police
Department in a way is tinged with irony since it the very
institution that formed an integral part in the defeat of
terrorism which won this goodwill for the Government. Therefore,
it is doubly regrettable that the law enforcement has on its own
accord sullied this reputation and is placed in the dock.
Speaking at a function in Ratnapura on Tuesday, President
Rajapaksa declared in no uncertain terms that no one should be
above the law and the Government was not prepared to protect
anybody who is trying to transcend the legal framework of the
"People who lack self discipline should not be in the service
of either the Police or the Armed Forces. One or two
undisciplined persons even in the police could put the country
into disrepute", the President said.
No doubt the President was alluding to certain incidents
involving certain top police officers which had sent ripples
across the country unfortunately sullying the image of the
entire Police Department which only a few months ago was earning
kudos for its not inconsiderable role in defeating terrorism.
We refrain from referring to the specific cases which are
already before Court but cannot help mentioning that the conduct
and discipline in the Department had hit a nadir.
Time was when our Police Department was one of the best in
South Asia and boasted of officers whose reputation even crossed
our own borders. Discipline and integrity were the hallmarks of
the Police Department then. That was a time when the uniform
inspired awe and respect in the general public and the law was
applied to the letter without fear or favour.The Police was then
considered protectors of the public where anyone could expect
fair treatment and not the villains as they are depicted now.
The rot set in with the politicization of the Department
which made certain bad eggs in the force throw caution to the
winds taking the law into their own hands secure in the bulwark
of political protection.The war compounded the problem with
recruitments made without adhering to proper standards and
screening of backgrounds of those recruited. We are seeing the
results of this today with policemen often on the rampage.
True, the entire police force cannot be hauled over the coals
by the misdemeanours of a few. But the public wrath is not
selective as we saw during the incidents mentioned. The entire
Police Department became the villain of the piece.
Now that the war is over the time has come for a complete
overhaul of the Police Department to make it an essentially
civilian force. We say this because from what is unfolding the
conclusion is inescapable that police brutality of the nature
witnessed is a carry over from the war days where the law
enforcement too became a part of the military machine
cultivating the same mentality.
The Police force should be gradually weaned from this mindset
and converted into its former role of crime busters and arbiters
of civil disputes.No doubt the process would take time since the
bulk of personnel recruited were those geared to fight a war
rather than deal in local crime.But the shake up is necessary if
we are to see a reformed Police Department adhering to its time
honoured ideals and codes of conduct.
The Police Department certainly has taken huge beating to its
image. As a first step, moves should be made to build the
shattered police- public relations and dissipate the rancour
that has built up against the Police. This, while reverting to
the status quo could also assist in other areas such as crime
detection which no doubt is bound to be hampered by the
reluctance of prospective informants among the public to have
any truck with the police due to its recent shenanigans.
The special attention of the President on the unfolding drama
in the Police Department and the reading of the riot act
hopefully would calm the public assuage their feelings towards
the Police Department resulting in a positive turn around.