For a Security Force,
The nature of crime is to weave its way slowly into society and our law enforcers have to be vigilant in order to restrain and prevent it. It is the responsibility of the law enforcing agencies to protect citizens from crime and civil disorder. S M Shahjahan, former advisor to a caretaker government and former Inspector General of Police (IGP) speaks with FARHANA URMEE on the role of police in the betterment of law and order situation of the country.
How can police in our country be reformed?
S M Shahjahan
Photo: Zahedul I Khan
After the independence of the country the police force was not reformed as was required. The whole system on which law enforcers perform their duty to the state must be reformed. Firstly, the laws based on which the police can act against crime are too old to meet today's demand of a democratic country and were created during the British rule in the subcontinent. Criminal Procedure Code 1898, Evidence Act 1872, the Police Act 1868 and the Penal Code 1860 still exist. These were formulated after the Seppoy Mutiny 1857 with the intention to use the force for the interest of the ruler and this legacy is still being carried on by the present ruling parties of our country. As a nation we have experienced a number of governing systems for the state. From time to time law enforcement forces were introduced and used to serve the interest of the government, but hardly of the people. What we need is a transition of the colonial approach to a democratic one.
We have to have a whole new set of laws, which will turn the law enforcement force into a public serving agency. Only amendments will not work here, a new law for law enforcement forces and the criminal procedure is required at this time. Again, law enforcers will not work alone, community involvement is also essential while combating crime. A public and police partnership can be introduced during this reform, which will be helpful to fight and prevent crime. In reforming the police another policy must be adopted, that of more proactive measures in place of the more reactive measures that are currently being taken. The Police needs to create a sense of security among the people other than just searching for criminals after any crime has occurred. The reform of the police should include the change of attitude, behaviour and culture of the police. Involvement of community with the police is also required.
Do you see any difference between the police force of your time and the current police force?
When I was the Inspector General of Police (IGP), I must not say that police as a force was better, rather I would like to say the force has not experienced the anticipated betterment that it was supposed to bring in and the progress that it was expected to make. The number of members of the force has been increased. But I have doubts regarding the quality of the force which is almost in a static position.
What are the deficiencies of the police force of the country?
There are deficiencies of police both quantitatively and qualitatively. The law enforcement force lacks sufficient manpower. Moreover, the police also remain occupied by maintaining different protocols, ensuring security of the VIPs, protecting educational institutions, serving political purposes and so on. There is only one police on duty for around 1200 people in the country; that means if a VIP gets six policemen for his/her protection or some other purpose involving his/her personal interest 7200 people will remain vulnerable to crime and unprotected. Again, the force needs to be modernised with sufficient technical and logistic support to perform their duty properly.
There is much distrust toward the police from the public's end, why do you think that is? How can this problem be solved?
I do agree that people hardly tend to trust the police; in this regard, I have mentioned earlier, the police has to change their A-B-C (Attitude-Behaviour-Culture). Training programmes should be conducted to sensitise the forces regarding human rights, women and child right and citizens' rights. Law enforcers should be reminded that having the authority to enforce law doesn't allow anyone to abuse or misuse their power. The approach of the police, in terms of using their power to intimidate citizens, should be turned into an approach of 'at your (citizen's) service'. Again, not everyone is immoral or corrupt in a force, therefore common people also have an obligation to cooperate to get the best service they deserve.
A number of crimes remain unreported as common people do not want to get into trouble with the complicated procedure of filing a complaint -which is another indicator of distrust of people towards law enforcers. In this regard the law enforcers often remain clueless about a number of offences. So, crime should be reported and the security forces should be given scope to work for the people and not for the government only.
What is your opinion on the allegations of custodial torture, extra-judicial killing, public harassment and torture before arrest while raids are being conducted by the law enforcers?
Being in a position of authority doest not mean that the authority figures are above the law. No one can be spared for committing any crime ranging from torture to murder. And any killing cannot be justified by calling it a termination of criminals or crimes which are ultimately good for the society. 'Crossfires' and 'shootouts' these should be neither the solution to the chaotic law and order situation nor should they be a means to combat crime. Law enforcers can never be spared after committing extra-judicial killing – if such allegation is proved, the perpetrators must be tried. I rather say, there must be an exemplary punishment. The culture of impunity should not be allowed to grow within the institutions.
Successful trials of criminals like Ershad Shikdar and militants in the country can be an example of obeying the rule of law. Even the criminals have the right to go under the process of trial, no institution should be sanctioned to go and shoot at them. If necessary a summary justice system can be introduced to resolve criminal cases in a short time. If the person who is supposed to protect people becomes a 'killer' in people's eyes, it is destructive for the human rights of the people of the country. Accountability of law enforcers must be introduced which should not be practiced 'in-house' only. Transparency, too, can make the forces liable to people. Again, a reformed force may have a Police Complaint Authority (PCA) where people can go and complain against law enforcers.
What do you think about the Human Rights Watch report urging the government to disband Rab?
Rab can exist if a reform takes place. The elite force, mostly having officer level personnel can work for the community in the true sense. The tendency of providing them with an illimitable power and the tendency of using the force for political purposes leaves the room to question its role. The allegations of extra-judicial killing must be investigated and the force must be made to answer for themselves if such questions arise. Mere political will is not enough; a firm commitment from the government must come to have a zero tolerance in this regard. If the government is letting any institution go above the law, it will be utterly detrimental for the government and the institution itself.
What steps would you recommend to improve the law enforcement situation of the country?
The whole situation can be improved through a thorough reform of the law enforcement agencies; formulation of new laws which is suitable for a democratic country where people are supposed to be the supreme power; equipping forces with technical and other facilities with which they can serve people in need. If such steps can be taken immediately police will no longer remain alienated from people rather they will become people's allies in preventing and fighting crime and protecting us all.