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                Volume 10 |Issue 34 | September 09, 2011 |


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Cover Story

Photo: Zahedul I Khan

The Reasons Behind Bad Policing

The frequent news reports of unlawful, questionable and brutal acts of police show how law continues to be violated in the hands of those who are supposed to be its protectors. A combination of factors prevents the police from being a symbol of safety and security.

Tamanna Khan

Police checkpoints are all over the city. Sometimes, however, innocent citizens get harassed.
Photo: Zahedul I Khan

On August 22, 2011 an assistant commissioner of Rajshahi Metropolitan Police and seven other policemen (including one sub-inspector and six constables) were arrested for extorting one lakh taka from Dr Rafiq Basunia and his family members at Laxmipur at Rajshahi.

On July 27, police threw 16-year-old Shamsuddin Milon to a mob at Tekerhaat in Noakhali to be lynched to death. A video footage aired at a private channel showed how police silently watched as enraged mob took the boy off the police van and beat him dead.

On July 16, Abdul Kader, a Dhaka university student was arrested by police from Segun Bagicha for alleged car-jacking. To give air to their allegations police hacked him in the leg with a machete implying a mob had caught and attacked him at the act of robbery. Kader was detained and tortured by police for 18 days before a probe body proved his innocence and he was released on bail.

These are only a handful of instances of the numerous unlawful, questionable and brutal acts of the Bangladesh Police force that appears almost daily in newspapers. According to Odhikar's human rights report between January 1 and August 31, 2011, a total of 58 extra-judicial killings have taken place, of which crossfire and death by torture in custody ranks the highest.

According to Dr Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director of Transparency International Bangladesh, since members of RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) enjoy impunity, extra-judicial killing or violence has spread within the police too and this explains their behaviour in cases like Tekerhaat, Noakhali. “A trigger happy culture is developing within police," he explains, adding that law enforcers can break the law because the protection of government-political authority especially when the minister claims that there has been no extra-judiciary killing.

Catching drug peddlers has been one of the major successes of the police. Photo: courtesy

Giving instances of people killed in crossfire and how a high court bench was dismissed right before the hearing of all the extra judicial killing cases, Advocate Adilur Rahman, secretary of Odhikar says: “This indicates continuous impunity — a person can continue to commit crimes in the uniform of law enforcement agent and he will not be punished.”

He blames the weakness of the criminal justice system and lack of laws to protect victims and witnesses as the reasons behind people's fear of filing complaint against law enforcers. “You need government sanction to file a case against a government officer like a police or RAB official,” he says adding that such a sanction hardly ever comes. “As human rights activists, we think that this requirement (of sanction) should be omitted,” he insists. Calling Anti- Terrorist Act 2009 and Contempt of Courts Act, 1926 draconian laws, he says these laws provide scope for human rights violation and restrict freedom of speech. “We should be ashamed that such a law like Contempt of Courts Act, 1926 enacted in the British period to restrict our freedom of speech still exists in independent Bangladesh,” he says.

Compensation packages need to be in line with the cost of living and long working hours. Photo: Zahedul I Khan

The law that governs the police is also colonial. Former adviser of caretaker government and former Inspector General of Police (IGP), SM Shahjahan says, “Our police are a product of history. Their attitude and culture is rooted in the Police Act 1861 that was enacted after the first War of Independence (the Sepoy Mutiny).” Explaining the creation of police force to suppress the community, the former IGP emphasises that police should now work in the interest of public service. “The Act should be replaced if we want to shift from colonial policing to democratic policing, from police force to police service.”

He cites how political governments have used the police to suppress opposition by taking advantage of the present law. “Home ministers had abused the post of Superintendent of Police (SPs) in the past. Rather there should be a body consisting of government, opposition leaders, members of judiciary and civil society to decide the fate of a high rank police officer. When a body works it will dilute the whim of a single person in authority,” he explains.

Rehearsal of a bomb disposal unit. Photo: courtesy

The Draft Police Ordinance has been submitted in 2007 to replace the 1861 Act, however, political governments have not shown any interest in this law because they will lose control of the police. Dr Iftekharuzzaman throws light on the matter. “The draft may have some questionable clauses, unacceptable to government. The present government had pledged to make the law enforcement agencies independent and effective. In that context, there was an opportunity to look at the draft and proceed with the amendment of the Act to make it up-to-date with the modern days' needs. But that has not happened,” he informs.

One of the main reasons that no progress in the draft has been made is because of strong resistance from bureaucracy, he states. “The linkage of police and bureaucracy at local and national level, because of the present Act or practice, allows room for administrative control besides political control. The main thrust of the ordinance was to release police from political and administrative control,” he says.

Police training must place more emphasis on a code of ethics. Photo: Zahedul I Khan

However, only enactment and amendment of laws are not enough to make police people- friendly. In most cases, police officers abuse their power for personal gains. Corruption in Bangladesh police is not a unique phenomenon, mentions Iftekharuzaman citing Transparency International's Global Corruption Barometer 2010 where police was on top of the list of most corrupt sectors globally. He says that the tendency is more in Bangladesh since police, as an institution, are not independent. “Police as an institution will only be effective when there will be some degree of confidence and capacity in police that they can take action against anybody without identity, whether that person belongs to a particular political party or not,” he explains.

Under the present circumstances, only name dropping and bribery work as antidotes for police harassment. In most instances, cases of harassment and bribery occur at police stations or in roads and highways. A police officer preferring anonymity admits that patrol, traffic or check post police mostly of the rank of constables and sub-inspectors (SI) use harassment and torture to extract money from general public. He blames the underhand dealings involved in the recruitment process of constables and SIs for this attitude. “They do not have a choice. When you have to spend taka 7-8 lakhs to get the job of an SI and about taka 3 lakh for the job of constables, they will no doubt want to recover the money from the public,” he says adding that the salary and benefits of members of the police force are not consistent with the current cost of living.

According to Chapter-III, Section-13(1) of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance, every police officer not on leave or under suspension shall be deemed to be always on duty. Considering the nature of their job, Dr Iftekharuzzaman emphasises that whole compensation package should be reviewed rather than making salary increment or increasing ration on piece meal basis. “During the Chittagong Municipal election, police were given about taka 27 as daily allowance, which is unthinkable in the twenty-first century. Even to get this meagre amount they have to go through a lot of trouble. This is not a sufficient enough incentive for police, which is a job of special nature. You are giving arms to a group of people or staff and if sufficient incentive is not given to match that arms- power, there remains the scope for abuse of the arms,” explains Iftekharuzzaman.

Resources at the disposal of law enforcers are pathetically ill-maintained and inadequate.
Photos: Zahedul I Khan

Inspector General of Police Hassan Mahmood Khandker opines that inadequate compensation should not be an excuse for unlawful measures. “As a member of the department, I am not supposed to violate the provisions of law for my personal benefit or indulge myself in corruption.” Regarding the present recruitment process of SIs and constables, which includes a written test, a viva and medical test, he thinks that the system in place is quite good. In his opinion anybody who does not follow the procedural steps is out of track and if any violations are found departmental actions are taken against that person.

Financial constraint not only affects the compensation package of police officers it also leaves them ill-equipped. “Our research shows that at the local level police are asked to procure even office furniture like chair, table at their own personal expense. The fund for the infrastructural expense of the police station is so low that they have to generate their own income to provide for those logistics,” informs Iftekharuzzaman. Logistical support should be consistent with the geographical coverage of each thana, he adds. He talks about instances where police often have to hire a private car or give requisition for a vehicle to move the dead body after a murder or accident takes place.

IGP Hassan states that they are trying to raise their pay and other emoluments. He observes that the police force suffers from inadequate financial and logistical support and lack of manpower. “The police to population ratio in our country is 1:1100 while in neighbouring countries it is 1:700. Our force is overloaded and over-burdened with work. The present government has taken this matter seriously in the recent past by recruiting more than 32,000 members in different ranks,” he says.

The State Minister, Ministry of Home Affairs, Advocate Shamsul Hoque Tuku, points to the limitation of government and public fund to explain the situation. “Yet amongst these limitations we are trying to improve the equipment, manpower, compensation of the police force along with the development of the police stations,” he says with hope. The former IGP Shahjahan however emphasises on quality of police officer rather than quantity. “We need more policemen but it is better to engage fewer policemen who are professionally trained, skilled, competent and most importantly sincere.”

Human rights violations have been a threat to police's image abroad. Photo: courtesy

Since 2005, a nine to 10-year span Police Reform Programme (PRP) has been implemented by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Bangladesh Police with the assistance of United Nations Development Programme. According to UNDP sources “PRP supports the transition from a colonial style police force to democratic policing by strengthening the Bangladesh Police's ability to contribute to a safer and more secure environment based on respect for the rule of law, human rights and equitable access to justice.” However, the positive results of the ongoing reforms like pro-people Model Thanas, Community Policing, establishment of Victim Support Organisations, are being overshadowed by the unlawful corrupt acts of some members of the police force.

The police must earn public trust again. Photo: courtesy

A study conducted by Saferworld in 2010, a UK based research organisation, shows that as security providers, people in Bangladesh have the least confidence in police. According to the survey people opined, “Police are vulnerable to corruption, that they lack adequate training and are liable to violate human rights.” Such opinions about police tarnish the image of the police force members who laid their lives at the dawn of our Liberation War to save their countrymen and also those who are honest and sincere. It is time that policy makers and bureaucrats let go of their petty interests and allow our police force to work in the greater interest of the state and become a symbol of safety and security.

Crossing The Line


September 2, 2011, 10pm
The police check post at Kemal Ataturk Avenue

My two friends and I were going toward Gulshan to a restaurant. The roads were clear but unlike most people enjoying the post Eid traffic, we were abiding by the speed limit. As we reached the check post at Kemal Ataturk Avenue and rolled down our windows as mandated, we were asked by several police officers to stop our car and park at the side of the road. When we asked what was wrong, they said, “When you speed past a check post and your car has tinted windows, you give us cause for suspicion.” We pointed out as politely as possible that we had not been speeding, but at the same time followed their instructions.

My friend who had been driving was asked to step out of the car and open the boot for inspection. They asked us women, to remain inside the vehicle. As my friend did what he was asked, we could hear them questioning him about where we were headed, which restaurant etc. At this point, one officer opened the backdoor and proceeded to stare at my friend sitting on the backseat, much to her discomfort. Another officer came up to my window and shone his torch into my eyes as he asked us where we lived, where we worked, what our parents did for a living etc, all of which we answered politely, although we did not understand the relevance of such questions since we had not committed any offence.

Two officers then entered the car, one sat on the driver's seat next to me, while the other searched the back seat. The officer next to me stared at me for a while and when I finally looked up at him he said, “Madam, do you have a problem with us searching this car?” I chose not to respond. He then asked me to open the glove compartment. When I reached out to do so, he reached out as well and put his hand on mine. I moved my hand away and he said, “Slowly, what's your rush?” Again, I chose not to respond. He then asked me to open the compartment between the passenger and driver's seat, which I did and again he reached out. This time I asked him not to touch me, to which he responded by asking me what I was carrying in my purse. I asked if it was a part of their protocol to search women's purses at check posts, but he did not answer.

The officer who was searching the back seat was going through every shopping bag we had inside the car. He pulled out a gym bag and went through every item of clothing inside it. Outside, I could hear the Sergeant asking my friend, “How do you know these two women? Are you related to them? Who are they to you?”

By this time, there was nothing left to search. They had found nothing in our car, it was very obvious that we were not intoxicated, they also knew that all three of us were responsible adults working at respectable companies. They still delayed letting us go. They continued to ask, what seemed to us, very pointless questions and continued to try to intimidate us.

When he realised that these men had no intention of letting us leave, my friend who had been driving, finally said he had a relative who is an influential political figure. As soon as he said this, the Sergeant visibly straightened up, his rude expression changed into a smile and he asked how closely he was related to this person. When my friend replied, the Sergeant immediately ordered the others to come out of the car, and let us leave.

The experience left all three of us shaken. From where I stood, there was absolutely no reason for the police to harass us the way they did. We had to name a powerful person for them to leave us alone, but I shudder to think about what happens to those who don't have a name to drop. How far do they take their bullying then? This was in fact, the second time we had to mention the name of an influential political figure at a check post. The last time, the officers involved asked for a bribe to let us go.

I can't get this incident out of my mind. I cannot forget about it. Why? I am a citizen of this country and I have rights, don't I? Why should I be afraid to go out of my house in fear of being harassed by the police or the RAB? Why do I have to have connections, to stop law enforcement officers who are supposed to protect me, from terrorising me?

There are criminals running around all over the city, robbing and murdering people in broad daylight while the law enforcement officers stand by and watch.

Anika Hossain is a staff writer of The Star Magazine, and this is a first hand account of her encounter with the police.



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