The Inspector General of Police (IGP) in his New Year message has outlined plans to make the service more people-friendly in 2012 and if the incidents in Maligawatte are anything to go by, then they will have their work cut out during the next 12 months.
The midnight gun battle at Maligawatte injured three people including a policeman and resulted in damage to vehicles and shops in the area. The Police and Army were greeted with petrol bombs from about 1,000 angry residents after they came to investigate, too late, a shooting incident involving a UNP member and an underworld thug.
It is obvious that the problems which plagued the Police in 2011 have not abated with the New Year and are likely to escalate if steps are not taken immediately. The IGP’s New Year message gives an inkling of what to expect.
The Police Department plans to connect all the Police stations via the internet to enhance the exchange of data and to provide information to the general public, which is positive, as this may assist in solving crimes faster. It also wants to start a service where the public can pay fines for violating traffic laws via SMS. This might not altogether be a great idea since the whole point of fines is inconveniencing the offender so that they will not do it again. If fines can be paid easily then the deterrent effect would be minimised since most fines are nominal amounts.
In addition, special attention will be given this year to Police promotions and transfers, according to the guidelines mentioned in the Public Services Commission. This is a very positive move and it is hoped that this year can accomplish something that has been wanting for a long time.
As a rise in road accidents were detected last year, a special programme will be implemented for motorists and pedestrians by the Traffic Police in order to build awareness. “The Police will take steps to combat organised crimes, thereby being able to curb criminal activities,” the statement said in conclusion.
It is disappointing that the message did not deal with the attacks on Police stations, the dissatisfaction of citizens and the growing disregard of the Police among the masses. It did not deal with accusations of torture, political killings and deaths of people while in custody. The IGP did not mention any comprehensive details of how underworld activities would be curbed and the tide of crime reduced. No mention was made of depoliticising the Police and providing a more independent service.
Without these policies in place, there will never be a close relationship between people and Police. If the service is to be upgraded to provide more support to the poor and vulnerable groups, then it is imperative that it has better resources and independence. Ironically it is unlikely that this will happen, paving the way for repeated scenes as was played out at Maligawatte.
IGP Illangakone also said that the CCTV cameras would be modernised so as to identify individuals (automated facial recognition) and to identify vehicle numbers (automated number plate recognition). Training and educational facilities for Policemen will also be strengthened this year to create a professional Police service in the country.