Policing the Police

Tuesday, 8 January 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Out of ninety-five public officials who were nabbed for taking bribes in 2012, the highest number was from the Police. Such statistics underscore the need to clean up the service to have effective enforcement of law and order.

Twenty-two policemen of all ranks have been arrested in raids conducted by the Bribery and Corruption Commission, according to reports. The remainder included local government politicians, officials of the Ministries of the Public Administration and Home Affairs and Health, Department of Wildlife Conservation, and provincial councils.

Sri Lanka has a long history of political interference eroding the independence of the Police. As every IGP is appointed, his first speech to the public is peppered with assurances for an impartial and professional Police service that will win the trust and respect of the masses. Yet, time and again reality has proved to be a disappointment. Justice remains in the purview of the rich and the poor are left to putter along as best they can.

The eight murders in Kahawatte, for example, have horrified a nation. Not only because of the ferocity of the crimes, but because they included children and the Police has to date been unable to put anyone behind bars for this most heinous of all crimes. The emergence of allegations over a massive drug trafficking network in the area and the presence of strong political figures behind the move have been highlighted many times, but there has been little attempt by the Police to build public confidence through a swift and effective investigation.

The one silver lining in this environment was the presence of an investigation unit that appeared to actually be getting close to the offenders. Yet random transfers, regardless of whatever justification can be given by the Police, were both ill-timed and in complete disregard of justice. There can be no question over the fact that such a transfer would not only destroy public confidence in the investigation but would delay or even deprive the victims of much-needed closure.

Politicians have repeatedly insisted that there is no political interference within the Police. However, events have repeatedly proved otherwise and the masses continue to completely disregard such statements simply because they know that they are not true. If the politicians and the Police want to prove that they are capable of putting their interests aside and genuinely caring about the people, then they need to stop protecting offenders and allow for the impartial application of the law.

Random transfer of officials when they are engaged in important assignments needs to stop and the Police have to remember that their loyalty should be to the people. Other than political interference, lack of resources, transparent promotion systems, recognition of honest officers, and adequate salaries are just a few needs that are plaguing the Police force. Unfortunately, even honest personnel are being tarnished with the same brush as the public sees mostly ineffective and corrupt officials.

At a time when the Judiciary is under duress and many fear the breakdown of law and order, it is up to the Police to inspire at least some level of confidence among the masses.