Beyond the call of duty | Daily News


 

Police Heroes Day:

Beyond the call of duty

The Sri Lanka Police commemorate Police Heroes Day on March 21. The policemen are the visual manifestation and guardians of the law. The Sri Lanka Police Service has had a long march. Today in spite of facing many challenges in terms of a people friendly police service and being subject to various allegations, the Sri Lanka Police service remains as the first responder and guardian of civil law.

For 155 years the gabardine (kakhi) uniform still represents the dignity and decorum of law enforcement. In the years gone by the good name of the police service has been tarnished by the actions of some officers, making the public skeptical. However the majority of the force continues to do a good job, often not appreciated by the public. In retrospect almost 90 percent of policemen and policewomen serve in stations far away from home, working long hours and facing many risks. In comparison to the policemen who served 50 years ago, the men and women in active duty today face greater threats. In the recent past violent extremism has manifested in acts of terrorism. The Easter Sunday attack of 2019 is an example of how the police have to respond and mitigate highly dangerous threats. Whilst the Armed Forces also respond to these threats in urban areas, the policemen are often in the “first wave” of an attack as their duty positions them in direct contact with the public.

Brief history

During the Portuguese occupation of Ceylon, they did not have a Police Force. Subsequently, the Dutch gained control of the Maritime Provinces by 1658. The Colombo Municipality initiated a system of hiring paid guards to patrol Colombo City at night. Once the British began to rule Ceylon the Office of the Fiscal was empowered to supervise Police duties.

Governor Fredric North began to redefine the functions of the Police in 1805. A Police Vidane (officer) was appointed in rural villages for the prevention of crime. Governor North directed that Colombo City be divided into 15 divisions. Police Constables were recruited and trained. The Governor was keen to restructure the Police and made a request to the Governor of Bombay (now Mumbai) to recommend a diligent officer and William Campbell was sent to Ceylon. Campbell assumed duties as the first Chief Superintendent of Police on September 3, 1866. Therefore this date is recorded as the day that the uniformed Police Force was established in Ceylon.

In 1867 the first Police Headquarters was set up at Maradana. The ranks were restructured to recognize Police Inspectors, Sergeants and Constables. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was established in 1870. The CID probes complicated crimes with specialized branches dealing with homicide, gang robbery, frauds and counterfeit currency. The CID is the coordinating point of contact for Interpol.

The Police Headquarters was later shifted to Fort in 1932 from where it operates to this day. In 1947 Richard Aluvihare became the first Sri Lankan to be appointed as Inspector General of Police, in a service once dominated by the British. He is credited with transforming the force and introducing the Police Kennels division which is presently headquartered in Asgiriya, Kandy. A Mounted Division was set up in Pettah.

For the first time women were recruited into the regular service. Since then policewomen have served alongside their male colleagues. Initially working in administrative roles they moved to traffic duty. Over the decades the women have been deployed with weapons to work in many roles including the protection of female VIPs. As more vehicles began to converge on the streets the Traffic Division was set up. Today it has blossomed into an active 24/7 branch with its own Highway Patrol. In 1952 for the first time VHF Radio was introduced to connect all stations enhancing communication facilities. The Police Narcotics Bureau was set up in 1973 and has conducted many successful raids seizing large hauls of narcotic substances. In the recent past the PNB displayed its detective prowess, working alongside the Sri Lanka Navy and made many narcotics detections. Undercover cops continue to work diligently in gathering vital information regarding national security.

Special Task Force

Sri Lanka was plagued with many forms of internal insurgency from the South and later the North. In order to counter this, the Police Department established the Special Task Force in 1983. These officers received training in jungle warfare and today play a pivotal role in the areas of counter terrorism, hostage rescue, bomb disposal and transport of high profile prisoners. The men and women serving within the STF have displayed high levels of teamwork and discipline. The STF can also be credited as the pioneers of VIP security in Sri Lanka and also in creating the CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives) response teams. To date 464 Special Task Force personnel have been killed in the line of duty.

First death on duty

On March 21, 1864 the area of Mawanella in Kegalle District was plagued by a gang of armed robbers. Led by Saradiel, these outlaws found refuge in a heavily forested terrain. A police raiding party had approached the location when one of the robbers named Mammale Marrikar shot Constable Sabhan wounding him fatally. In this encounter Saradiel was captured and justice delivered. Since then March 21 is commemorated as Police Heroes Day.

Since then during the three decades of conflict many police officers were killed and others remain disabled. Policemen played an important role in defending border villages alongside the Army.

They manned check points by day and night. Today cops are the first responders to control violent protesters at public venues. In addition policemen provide security to the esteemed courts and senior members of the judiciary. Highly skilled cops brandishing modern weapons work in close protection teams of VVIP/VIPs.

To date 3,124 policemen have been killed in action. Many have been awarded with the President's Gallantry Medal.

We must remember the sacrifice of these officers who laid down their lives, leaving behind their wives and children. There are shortcomings in the police service, however we must give due credit to those who have died in the line of duty.

The Police service will hopefully strive to meet the new challenges that lie ahead in law enforcement, gratefully remembering the exemplary attitude of their brave departed colleagues.

 


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