Monday, April 7, 2008

Controlling the menace of street crime

Published in The News on 1/29/2007
Controlling the menace of street crime
By Afzal A Shigri
Street crime is posing serious challenge to law enforcement agencies in the country as this creates a sense of insecurity and a lack of the writ of the state and tarnishes the image of the country. Street crime essentially is, car snatching, mobile and purse snatching and at a lesser level pick pocketing. It is a manifestation of deeper and more ominous causes and indicates the weakness of the government machinery and strength of the under world. This category of criminal activity is fundamentally an urban phenomenon and due to the very size of the illegal benefits it generates, it can only flourish with the support of powerful vested interest groups and organised crime that can influence the decisions of the government and thus frustrate all efforts to stem the tide of lawlessness. Linked to this is the more serious crime of armed robberies, kidnapping for ransom, drugs, gunrunning and even terrorism. It has a snowball effect as it generates more resources and attracts bigger players and becomes part of organised crime.Police reforms were introduced to create a professional police force that could face the emerging challenges of a modern and complex world where the big money tends to control the political system and convert the country into one huge source of wealth for the few. The reform was to primarily depoliticise the law enforcement machinery and subject it to over sight by the civil society and a credible process of accountability. Unfortunately this did not happen and we are now faced with a very unpleasant situation and the chief ministers except for routinely threatening the police officers of strict action for public consumption have failed to address the fundamentals that could show any improvements. Two glaring examples in two provinces reflect the real problem and highlight the failure of the police to function effectively. In one case the inspector-general of police caught an officer of the rank of SP red handed in illegal activities and the officer was immediately transferred to the central police office. Within one week of this action the IGP was pressurised into posting him to another lucrative assignment. In another case an officer of the rank of Inspector was suspended and transferred to police lines for gross misconduct. The IGP was directed to reinstate the officer and post him back to the same place from where he was suspended. In this case the IGP was not even allowed to go through the motions of following a procedure. The inspector was restored to his post next morning. There is a long list of such decisions where undesirable elements in the force continue to find protection by powerful vested interests backed by the resource-rich organised crime. In such situations the police commanders lose their authority to deliver and are turned into ceremonial heads whose only job becomes receiving and seeing off VIPs.The Police Order 2002 was enacted to address the complex issues of law-enforcement in a modern society but its provisions were either amended or circumvented and in most cases just remain unimplemented. Its limited implementation has only been selective and where it impinges on the authority of the executive it has just been disregarded. The Police Order 2002 envisaged that the provincial police officer should be posted for a fixed tenure through a mandatory consultative process. While the consultative process was deleted from the law the provision of the tenure of the officers in the specified assignment was just ignored. Similarly even in the case where the process had to be followed in case of federal law-enforcement agencies the provision was conveniently ignored and the recommendation of the National Public Safety Commission was not sought in the recent posting of officers. In Punjab merit-based and a transparent system of recruitment to the rank of ASI through the province’s public service commission was circumvented by designating the post as traffic wardens. These traffic wardens were recruited without the public service commission’s involvement by the police department and are presently being trained in the police training college. Once they end their training, they will perform the duties of police officers but are not technically police officers. Eventually, they will be absorbed in the force and given police ranks. This is a blatant violation of law enacted by the government itself. This doesn’t end with Punjab. Take the case of NWFP where the government has issued instructions that law and order meetings in a district are to be chaired by the district coordination officer. This is again illegal and will only reintroduce diarchy in the management of the police force of a district. Sindh has found a novel way of undermining the authority of the IGP. It distributes the budgets to the districts directly instead of to the departmental head of the police. The provinces unfortunately have ignored the provisions of the Police Order 2002 and instead of finding answers to the worsening law and order situation through de-politicisation of the police, promotion of professionalism in the department and credible accountability of errant police officers, they have resorted to costly experiments and have raised forces, introduced new tiers and blindly increased the pays of certain branches in the force that has created serious distortions with an extremely negative impact on the efficiency of the police force. In Punjab instead of creating viable city police units and strengthening the investigation wings within the force, there is talk of taking away the highway patrolling posts and traffic police from the police and placing them under the home and transport departments. This fragmentation of a functioning department will only create organisations with overlapping jurisdictions that will result in divided responsibility with disastrous results for the society. It is time that the fundamental issues as spelled out in the National Reconstruction Bureau report of 2000 are addressed seriously. For a starter what is left of the Police Order 2002 after its mutilation in 2004 should be implemented and followed. This will restore the now reconstructed public safety commissions at the provincial and district levels that will at least provide a forum for the common person to take his grievances and help the police in identifying the local elements involved in street crime and will involve the civil society in overseeing the police. It will also help to bring public pressure on the so-called leaders that protect the criminals. The police cannot function in a void; they must have the support of the people to be effective on the streets. Governments must follow the provisions of the law and allow the command structure of the police establishment to play its role without any interference. Experimentation with new amateur ideas must be stopped. In bringing change the concepts already crystallised by the NRB after extensive consultation should be introduced in a phased programme. Police heads of large cities should be given a free hand to deal with the rising tide of street crime and in case of failure he should be made accountable. It is vital that only officers with initiative and imagination are posted to these assignments who can think and plan one step ahead of the criminal. Interference in the recruitments, postings and disciplinary actions must be stopped and no political consideration should be allowed to protect a delinquent police officer. Selective implementation of the Police Order 2002 has only led to serious distortion of the entire process of law enforcement. Police commanders must have full functional autonomy but should be subjected to close oversight by the civil society and held accountable for all their actions. Politicians across the political divide must learn and understand that if we want this country to move forward in the fast changing world of the 21st century they have no choice but to allow the police to follow the law of the land. If we fail to do so, all our efforts for progress and economic development will come to naught as street crime will continue to project Pakistan as a lawless and wild country as no amount of image building can be fruitful without safe streets in large urban centres of the country.The writer is a former inspector-general of police. Email: skardu14@yahoo.com

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