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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 country.

"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.

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