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     Volume 6 Issue 38 | September 28, 2007 |

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Cover Story

Making the Police People Friendly

Elita Karim
People look for other ways to resolve issues of theft, mugging or other illegal and criminal issues, instead of approaching the man in the uniform.

Anando Sarkar (not his real name) works at a multinational in Dhaka. Growing up in the city, he is well acquainted with the ways of the law enforcers and their practise of bending the law to the extreme, just so to meet their own needs. According to him, police officers are the most corrupt of all professionals in the country. “They do not know the meaning of humanity,” says Sarkar. He remembers his friend being severely hurt, when a reckless police van hit the rickshaw Sarkar and his friend were travelling in. While Sarkar somehow managed the fall, his friend hit the pavement and lost consciousness and was bleeding profusely. Sarkar was screaming for help from the officials who were manning the street. He shouted for them to catch hold of the police van before it got away too far. Instead he was asked to shut his mouth if he did not want to get hauled in. This was just one of the many experiences which both directly and indirectly led him to believe that trusting the law enforcers or asking them for help is futile. “To add to all our problems, we would just end up getting all the more harassed if we turn to the police for help,” he says.
Police performances have always been obstructed by outside interference, influence and pressure.

Like Sarkar, there are maybe thousands in this country who look for other ways to resolve issues of theft, mugging or other illegal and criminal issues, instead of approaching the man in the uniform. Filing a general diary is just a formality, says 28-year-old Hasib Imam, who works at an advertising agency in Dhaka. “You would either have to be related to some hotshot within the force or pay the officials a bribe to speed up an investigation,” he says. “Otherwise it's pointless to trust the police.”

During the aftermath of the 1857 uprising, the Police Act 1861 was put in place by the British so as to establish a force that would suppress any movement for independence. This act continues to govern police administration in Bangladesh to this day, which is to rule, but not to serve. According to UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) reports, this archaic policy has hampered the efforts to transform the Bangladesh police into a modern police organisation.

According to the Public Attitude Baseline Survey carried out by the (UNDP), the general public strongly believes that external interference plays a huge role in creating obstructions, thus affecting police performance. Police performances are obstructed by outside interference, influence or pressure, including political and social pressure and interference.

The baseline survey was conducted during May to December 2006 in seven districts and two metropolitan units and in 2 other randomly selected areas for the purpose of comparative analysis. Qualitative and quantitative investigations, household level interpersonal interviews from poor, low economic class, middle and rich classes were taken for the survey.

An example of the sub-human conditions the police officials live in.
1. Police quarters in Shyamoli. 2. Chowkis in a room filled with bricks and debris. 3. An office room in a police beat in Shyamoli. 4. The bathing area in a police mess is often out in the open.

At least 6,000 respondents were included in the public attitude baseline survey, comprising of police personnel and other professional groups like lawyers, teachers, doctors, homemakers, business people, women leaders / professionals, elected local representatives, civil society, youth and media representatives. While a majority of the respondents belonging to different professionals felt that external influence obstructs the performance of police, around 50-71% of the police officials themselves, who were included in the survey, consider hoodlums, fear of transfer, political leaders/cadres, local pressure groups and fear of being implicated in cases as most frequent sources of influence or pressures on them.

In fact, life is not as easy for these police officials. A visit to their living quarters gives ample proof of the neglect and sub-human conditions they live with. The quarters we visted in Shyamoli for example, resembled a ramshackle shack rather than a dormitory for one of the most important agents of the law. Junior officials practically survive amidst the growing slime around them. Several chowkis are lined up together in one room, where sometimes two officials have to share one single chowki. These multi-purpose chowkis are also used during meal times since it is practically impossible to eat sitting on the ground that is filled with bricks and debris. The grimy, smelly bathroom has a single light bulb which has not been working for several days. According to one official, if the light bulb that he and his roommates had ordered weeks ago does not arrive anytime soon, they would have to spend their own money to buy one soon. That is the way things work here, he says. If that is not enough to scare one's wits out, a trip to the kitchen would surely have ones cream out in fright. Still using wood and coal to cook, the walls and the floors are filled with grime, soot and muck. Their meals, according to the officials, are cooked in these unhygienic conditions everyday.

Vehicles used by the police are often in a state of disrepair and would hardly pass the 'fitness' standards.

One of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police officers manning the streets in Banani says that he prefers to bring his lunch from his quarters, instead of having it delivered on spot by the delivery officials. “Its not that I get to eat something different or better this way,” he explains. “But sometimes, the delivery truck ends up coming to the spot too late. And also because of the constant shifts from one place to another, sometimes I miss the delivery trucks. So if I have been doing my 6 hour morning shift in Banani, I miss my lunch from the truck since my next shift would probably start somewhere in Badda. At times like these, I buy my own lunch.” It is a different case for the delivery during Ramadan, he says. “The truck will not come for only one or two persons, since most of the officers on duty would be fasting,” he says. “So we pitch in Tk 10 or Tk 15 and buy iftar from the nearby shops.”

For these officials, proper working conditions are also not provided. For instance, a police officer works for 18-19 hours, more than the shifts allotted for each officer, for a meagre salary. “Police officials have no incentive and their salary structure is not enough to meet the basic needs of an official's family,” says Faird Ahmed, the Public Relations Officer of PRP, UNDP. It is, thus, no mystery as to why there has been such widespread allegations of corruption against the police force.

Police officials at the PRP workshops and training programme.

In an interview with SWM, Noor Mohammad, the Inspector General of Police had mentioned that because of the limited facilities provided to the police officials in the country, improvement in this sector is very difficult. An official, he has said, works seven days a week and 24 hours a day, sometimes not even getting a leave during the religious festivals. If these humanitarian issues are not taken seriously by both the government and the media, and a police person is not given his or her dues, he or she cannot be expected to work efficiently or even honestly.

For the first time in the 147 years, a change is finally taking place. “The policing concept has been here in this country for over a century,” says Farid Ahmed. “It is definitely not an easy task to bring about a reform in this sector. However, if it can take countries like Singapore 14 years for a reform to come into action in the police force, we certainly have hope for a change as well.” According to Ahmed, the Police Reform Programme (PRP) has been undertaking surveys for the last couple of years, to analyse the present situation of Bangladesh Police so that a comparative analysis can be conducted over time to measure the degree of change, assess intended benefits and ensure that the programme is meeting its goals and objectives. “Several issues are now being addressed thanks to the initiative taken by the PRP,” he says. The surveys point out that low motivation and morale are linked to low pay, poor working conditions and limited promotion prospects. This results in the lack of sensitivity by the police on the plight of victims of crime, particularly women, young people, minorities, the landless poor, street people and other vulnerable groups.

The Police Reform Programme means to establish a major improvement in the efficiency and effectiveness of the Bangladesh Police. This is possible only if the key areas of police policy and practice are well supported, for instance crime prevention, investigations, police operations and prosecutions, human resource management and training, strategic planning and oversight, IT and communication, and anti-trafficking of human beings. The police service is to become more responsive to the needs of the poor and vulnerable.

A police official works for 18-19 hours at a stretch, without any consideration of an overtime pay.

Issues like gender, young people, HIV AIDS, human rights, environment and disaster management are also being given a lot of consideration. “The police station has to be showcased in such a way, that anyone in trouble should not hesitate to come and seek help from an officer,” says Farid Ahmed. “But that is not the case in our country. Most people, especially women, rather stay away from the harassment that they are bound to go through while lodging a complaint.” Setting up of model police stations, therefore, is a very important activity under the programme. These stations have been built in 12 districts; six more will be added. These centres have been exclusively created to serve the people looking for help or lodging a complaint. “In fact, the idea of a victim's support centre is also under construction, where injured persons would be given immediate medical help while lodging in complaints,” says Ahmed. “According to the present rules, a person who is injured on the streets by a mugger or a robber have to file a case with the police station before getting any kind of medical help. Sometimes, rape victims are seen waiting in the police stations for hours together, not receiving any kind of medical help till the police begin the investigation.”

The PRP has also established a strong connection with the officials in the grass root levels. “There are junior and ill paid officials in the rural villages, who offer a service of providing security for a mere Tk 300- Tk 500 a month,” says Farid. “This is also a kind of service and has to be properly recognised by the government.”

The total budget of this programme, which began in 2003, is about USD 16 million. Besides the government of Bangladesh, UNDP, DFID and the European Commission are also playing a major role in making this programme a success.

As a part of the training programmes, workshops for the police officials and research, anti-corruption specialist of PRP and a lieutenant of the Montreal Police, Paolo del Mistro, believes that just by giving the officials and constables decent salaries and good working conditions, the force will definitely become more efficient. Because of the lack of these basic facilities, police officials lose their self respect. Paolo further mentioned that these officials should be allowed to do their job without any kind of interference, political or administrative.

Meals for the officials are cooked under extremely unhygienic conditions.

As a result of the PRP's efforts to better the lives of the law enforcers in the country, very recently, the government has sanctioned Tk 18 crore in the 2007-08 fiscal year to meet the cost of investigation of cases.

The unofficial rule has been that investigators have to manage their costs through illegal means, which would often result in submission of biased reports. “A case of a simple theft in a village would turn out to be extremely complicated once the local police would get involved,” says Farid Ahmed. “The local police would never reach the area of the crime immediately because he does not have transport. And even if he does have a patrol car, it probably does not have the fuel to run. So instead of waiting around, the official would take a bus to the area where the crime took place. It would be much more complicated in the case of a murder. The official would never receive the amount allotted to take the body to the morgue and perform other official activities. He would have to take the money from the villagers or pay it from his own pocket.”

The government will be spending Tk 7.3 crores for 6,172 policemen in the traffic department. All traffic police officials will be paid an allowance of 30 percent of their basic salary, however, not exceeding Tk 2,500. The investigation officer will get Tk 3,000 for the investigation cost of each murder and robbery case, Tk 2,000 for an unnatural death case, Tk 1,000 for women and children repression related case, Tk 2,500 for abduction case, Tk 1,000 for law and order related cases and Tk 1,000 for investigation of other offences. The police officials are still seeking a 25 percent of the basic salary as risk allowance. If the allowance is granted, it will cost the government an additional Tk 128.22 crore.

For daily meals of an accused in police custody, the proposal to increase the present allowance of Tk 10 to Tk 100 is still pending the government's consideration. The proposal also sought increase in the family ration of a married constable to 80 percent from the existing 60 percent and for head constables to 100 percent from the present 80 percent. It also sought increasing the travel allowance for a constable to Tk 500 a month from the existing Tk 30.

Law enforcers in any country play a significant role in controlling the level of corruption in society. One cannot expect an official to work for 15 hours on the streets, only to go home to a mere shack, where basic needs like water and hygiene are ignored. It is high time that these officials are given back the self respect, integrity and the confidence that they have lost over the decades. Only then, can the archaic notion of ruling over the people change to serving the people.


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