Policing the police | Daily News

Policing the police

Talk about reforming the Police Department has once again come to the surface. This follows the tragic incident in Kataragama where a motorcyclist fleeing police orders to halt was shot dead by a constable, near a check point. The incident sparked violent protests, with the local police station coming under attack by angry villagers. The PC concerned has been arrested and placed in remand, while over 50 agitators too had been taken into custody, and, subsequently released on bail.

The tragedy, coming in the heat of an election campaign, no doubt, has placed the government in a difficult situation. Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka has taken to task IGP Pujith Jayasundera, and asked him, in no uncertain terms, to ‘police’ the police. According to an English daily, the minister has told the IGP that the people's protectors must not be predators, because such incidents could breach the people's trust in the police. In a tweet, the minister had also stated that the Kataragama incident was not an isolated one but stems from the lack of training and professionalism. Hence, drastic reforms (to the Police Department) will soon be introduced with the help of foreign experts. He said: "the police themselves are subjected to the law. When quelling a tense situation or an ugly demonstration, justifiable force should be used, in strict adherence to operating guidelines. It appears that these fundamentals have not been followed in relation to the Kataragama incident”, the minister has reportedly stated in his tweet.

It defies reason as to why the police constable in question had taken the extreme measure of opening fire at the fleeing motorcyclist. It is not as if the country is under siege, as it was, during the second uprising of the JVP in the late eighties. There was no reason to suggest that the motorcyclist was carrying with him explosives to blow up some government installation, as was common in those violence plagued days. In the old police manuals, an individual defying police orders could be shot below the knee, or, a motorist fleeing orders to halt, gave the police the power to shoot at the vehicle.

Is this what got the PC concerned to go into action, without using his better judgement? Which, once again brings up the whole issue of the war mentality still affecting a majority of our law enforcement officers. Are these trigger happy policemen still in the service, without undergoing rehabilitation?

As is common knowledge, during the war years, recruitment to the Tri-forces dispensed with all laid down criteria and background screening. Understandably, in the urgent need for augmenting manpower, to fight the enemy, the government could not afford such a luxury. The Police Department was no exception. As a result, plenty of bad eggs found their way into the services as well as the police. The large number of murders and armed robberies today, involving army deserters, are a direct consequence of this haphazard recruitment, though necessitated by the existing contingencies.

Similarly, the Police Department, too, may still have in its midst, criminal elements or those with a criminal bent, who may have not been able to shed the brutalized effects of the war years. It is no exaggeration to say that it is such tendencies that manifest itself, from time to time, leading to incidents as that witnessed in Kataragama. It is this aspect, more than anything else, that should engage the attention of the minister, who is contemplating sweeping reforms to the Police Department. The frequency with which incidents involving the police, that is been reported, too, should be taken into account. Like the minister stated, the police has not been given a carte blanche to act and the law enforcement too is subject to the law.

On the other side of the coin, the police, too, is today forced to act under tremendous pressure, to exercise restraint, and this aspect too should receive the minister's consideration. The frequency of the protests, their violent nature, and, the dimension these protests and agitations have taken, no doubt, places the law enforcement in an unenviable position. The police cannot merely standby and allow for a breach of the peace to take place, for it's prime duty is to protect the citizenry from harm. In performing this task, it is grossly unfair, nay, unbecoming, for the police to be held accountable for what may be seem as excessive use of force to quell unruly mobs bent on mayhem.

We say this because the police, recently, came under fire from the authorities for manhandling some university students who had lain siege of the Health Ministry building. This, after the students had damaged state property. The police had no alternative but to act the way they did? There is also the ploy used frequently today to put Bikkhus in the forefront of any agitation and the police are unfairly blamed if some monk is manhandled. It is in this context that the term ‘minimum force’ takes on special significance. Who is to judge the degree of force, to be used by the police, in a given situation? 


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