154 years of triumphs, trials and tragedies | Daily News


Sri Lanka Police Day today:

154 years of triumphs, trials and tragedies

The Sri Lanka Police is one of the oldest police forces in Asia. It has endured a long journey of over 150 years traversing a road laden with triumphs, trials and tragedies. Upholding the law is vital for a crime-free society in any country. The men and women who wear the gabardine uniform (the official name for the khaki material) are also humans, with their strengths and weaknesses. That being said the constabulary is empowered with enforcing the law, and we as citizens have a right to expect the best. It is a legal and moral obligation expected of the entire police service.

Early history

For centuries, Sri Lankan kings prudently ruled the nation and had a system of laws, and custodians to implement them. During the Portuguese occupation of ancient Ceylon, they did not have a uniformed Police Force although there was some form of maintaining order and collecting taxes. Subsequently, the Dutch gained total control of the Maritime Provinces and the Northern Peninsula by 1658. The Colombo Municipality initiated a system of hiring paid guards to patrol Colombo city at night. Once the British began to establish their dominion over Ceylon, the Office of the Fiscal was given authority to supervise Police duties.

As the city was being overcrowded, the Fiscal was unable to administer the Police functions entrusted to him. Governor Frederick 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 - the zones that are in use to date. Police constables were recruited and trained. The Governor was keen to restructure the Police and made a request to the Governor of Bombay to recommend a diligent officer. The name of William Campbell, who was in charge of the Indian Rathnagiri Rangers, was proposed and duly accepted. Campbell arrived in Ceylon and assumed duties as the first Chief Superintendent of Police on September 3, 1866. 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 in Maradana. In Colombo, the ranks were restructured to recognize police inspectors, sergeants and constables. For the first time, the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) was created. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was established in 1870. The CID is the coordinating point of contact for Interpol.

The Police Headquarters was relocated in Fort in 1932 from where it operates to this day. In 1947, Richard Aluwihare became the first Sri Lankan to be appointed as the Inspector General of Police. He is credited with transforming the Force. IGP Richard Aluwihare recruited female cadre into active regular service. Today the number of policewomen has significantly increased.

Sri Lanka was plagued with many forms of internal insurgency. Realizing this threat, the Police Department established the Special Task Force (STF) in 1983. The training academy was set up in Katukurunda. These officers received training in counter-terrorism operations. During the past 37 years, the STF has made significant progress in the areas of explosive ordinance disposal, VIP security and SWAT teams who respond to dangerous confrontations. Over the past few months, the STF teams have played a key role in arresting members of organized criminal gangs. They have also been tasked to enhance security for the prisons in Colombo.

Reaching aspirations

The Sri Lankan public has many expectations from the police service. Today we live in a world that is influenced by social media. There is a tremendous need to enhance a good rapport with the public. The negative actions of police personnel go viral on social media within minutes. Today public information is vital to prevent crime and helps in narcotics detection. This can happen when there is trust between police and public. A new Code of Ethics for the police was launched in 2016 to address this requirement for a people-friendly law enforcement entity. The National Police Commission was mandated among other tasks with creating an efficient police service. However, many citizens insist that the police service needs pragmatic change from ground level, with emphasis on the constabulary. In the recent past, the image of the police service received a severe blow when a dozen officers of the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) were arrested on charges of corruption and fraud.

The negative actions of a few always affect any organization, and this cannot be accepted from the Police Force. Another area receiving adverse comments is the way policemen in the ranks of sergeant and constable speak to people in a rude manner with no courtesy at certain police stations and also at traffic checkpoints on the road. This shows a lack of consistent in-service training and motivation. In fairness to police constables and sergeants, many have stagnated without timely promotions, which is a direct factor in their mood swings. Their other concerns were better facilities at barracks. Serving far away from their families and homes can have an impact on their attitudes. Mess facilities (dining) for junior police officers and the inspectorate must be revamped to meet the standards of mess facilities seen in the Armed Forces. Timely appreciation is vital in building efficient teamwork. The Inspectorate (ranks of SI/IP/CI) is the backbone of the Sri Lanka Police. They must be given good welfare facilities and career development.

In 2019, steps were taken to promote 31,000 police constables and sergeants which is commendable. However, their thinking must be induced with professionalism and positive attitudes. Junior policemen and policewomen must be empowered with IT skills. In this manner, documentation processes can be streamlined. The delay in obtaining police clearance certificates is another area which draws criticism and public complaints. English language proficiency of police officers needs to be upgraded as a priority to meet service requirements. English language skills are equally vital for policemen aspiring to serve on UN peacekeeping missions.

Another brilliant project for the police was envisaged by current President and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in updating all the fingerprints of the Criminal Records Division (CRD) into a centralized computer data network. This was successfully done in 2012. This enables easy access in searching and tallying fingerprints within minutes.

In keeping with global police trends, we must practice the MARC method of physical arrest, to restrain violent criminals. The MARC process (Mechanics of Arrest, Restrain and Control) uses the S2P3 concept ensuring the safety of the police officer and person being arrested. The use of excessive deadly force can cause legal complications and allegations of human rights violations, which we have seen in the past. Recording public complaints must be done in a streamlined manner at police stations taking into consideration the language requirements of all ethnicities in Sri Lanka. Every station OIC must strive to foster better relations with the public. They must incorporate temples, churches, kovils and mosques in their public relations programmes. The Sri Lankan public has a duty to work alongside their local police stations.

Many gallant policemen have made the supreme sacrifice over the decades. We cannot forget that 2,598 policemen have been killed in active duty and 834 remain disabled. Almost 600 brave policemen were killed in the Eastern Province during the war. Police officers have been killed by drunk and negligent drivers on the road. The policemen and policewomen did an excellent job in enforcing the COVID-19 quarantine curfew, helping the Armed Forces and public in many ways. The Police Band did its part in entertaining people residing in housing schemes during the long curfew. The recent police raids, especially in the Western Province to eradicate narcotics is highly commendable and restores public confidence. The police service has come a long way over the years. There are hundreds of honest and efficient officers. The Sri Lanka Police must rise with confidence to build and sustain a people-friendly service, as Sri Lankans aspire to become a prosperous nation under a dynamic and prudent political leadership.

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