AS Sri Lanka witnesses the appointment of the 33rd Inspector General of Police (IGP) it would be opportune to take a step back and view the state of law and order in the country.
There is much to write about and little to crow about on this topic but the attention of the new IGP must be drawn to the importance of ending the culture of impunity that has taken root in Sri Lanka.
The sense of impunity starts at the top and trickles to the lowest and most disempowered people. All others in between are striving to reinforce a sense of law by appealing to the police for help.
The police records show that incidents in the post-war era are not proceeding as smoothly as the politicians would want people to believe. According to reports the Batticaloa police division has logged the highest number of incidents among the Northern and Eastern divisions for two consecutive years, a clear sign that paramilitary forces are continuing to use their impunity to suppress and avoid the law. Whether this impunity is granted through weapons, political leadership or both the police are honour bound to protect the people.
Police headquarters statistics show that the Batticaloa division had logged 767 complaints ranging from abductions to robberies during the first nine months of last year. Ampara recorded (686), Jaffna (503), Vavuniya (456) Trincomalee (308), Kantale (198), Mannar (158), Kankesanthurai (142) and Mankulam (109) during that period.
Batticaloa logged 1,063 cases during 2009, whereas Ampara recorded (1,015), Vavuniya (695), Jaffna (556), Trincomalee (452), Kantale (241), Kankesanthurai (225), Mannar (169). However, the Ampara police division (1,181) recorded the highest number of incidents in 2008, while Batticaloa logged (1,051), Vavuniya (696), Jaffna (596), Trincomalee (519), Mannar (422), Kankesanthurai (241) and Kantale (211).
Despite the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) taking up the need to disband armed groups in the north and east along with calls from top army officials to hand over weapons the situation remains tenuous. It is imperative that this aura of impunity be removed and offenders brought to book as well as the enforcement of law done impartially to instil confidence among the people.
Things are not faring better in the rest of the country. Kelaniya recorded a staggering 2,573 incidents in the first nine months of last year––3,476 cases in 2009 and 3,211 incidents the previous year. The Mt. Lavinia and Nugegoda divisions in the Colombo District together with Ratnapura and Kandy remained major trouble spots. The new IGP has already announced plans to increase training standards for 18,000 recruits but this is not enough.
These numbers are bad enough but it is also well known that some of the crimes that take place are not even reported to the police, which mean that the real level of crimes is not known. Nonetheless the importance of a well trained, disciplined and caring police force is underscored by these statistics. Even though caring is not a word commonly used in reference to police that is exactly what they are supposed to do – care for the people so that they will be protected. Limiting politicisation and ensuring that the law serves everyone equally is the ultimate goal.