The Sunday Leader

Police And Implementation Of Justice

A policeman’s lot has never been a happy one, anywhere even when records were not kept as well as after records were made.

The policeman loyally served his ruler who rewarded his doughty services with a pittance even though a slight mistake could have made his head roll.

Would the Sri Lankan policeman of 2016 fare better? From the days of British sahibs whom he served under the British Empire and thereafter to Senanayake, Bandaranaike, Jayewardene and Rajapaksa times, he was most praised for keeping the ruling parties in power, the least paid and kicked out to distant places such as Velvetiturai for little or no fault of his.

Today we are told his fate is not solely dependent on the ‘IG’ – as he reverentially referred to the Inspector General – for over two centuries. He is now under a Police Commission entrusted to direct, discipline, guide and protect him in fair and foul weather.

Has the supposedly revolutionary change made him a better and fairer cop or made him even worse?

Public reaction to a few incidents that occurred after the Yahapalanaya government took over has been adverse to the police not solely because the conduct of the police had been worse than before but because they expected a wholly fresh and different police response under the new dispensation.

There are problems in this Yahapalanaya times. A police response to massive public protests cannot obviously be responded to in a singularly uniform reflex action.

Firstly it has to be realised that during the past nine years and even before, policemen were under political directions on how public protests were to be countered. Thus a police riot squad facing a mass demonstration of thousands of students without specific political directions as before would naturally have the officers-in-charge rattled.

We are no specialists in police psychology to make pronouncements on what the police psyche would be at such moments but have only tried to imagine thoughts running through an ordinary human mind in such a situation.

Quite obviously police riot squads on the streets should be back in the police school following instructions on how to tackle such riots, the Yahapalanaya way without prejudice to the parties involved as is supposed to be done in countries where police do not take sides.

Even when the police have to visit private residences, there should be guidelines on their conduct and not leave room for allegations such as the demand for drinks been made.

Police-public relations need revamping, particularly after the intrusion of television and electronic technology.

Prime time TV news commentaries of today carry provocative reports of public reaction to varied situations. Quite often, the police are on the scene and have to answer tough questions which, at times, their official commitments forbid them to do. Brash questioning on TV makes heroes of non-entities and make policemen the villains.

TV has emboldened citizens, even women, to be tough and question authorities. It’s good for democracy but makes the lot of policemen harder.

An even greater task before the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government is to clean the top echelons of the police service. The cases of high ranking police officers now facing serious charges are a disgrace to a police service.

The rot set in with the politicization of the police. The rulers considered police officers to be at their beck and call to carry out degrading and later criminal tasks. Criminals enjoyed the same status of policemen and soon some police officers were seen saluting well known criminals – it happened before the Rajapaksa regime but continued with renewed vigour later on.

President Sirisena has the task of cleansing the top rungs of the police. He can either do it with the appointment of a Special Police Reform Commission or make the unwanted bow out of service in silence. He has to start from the top.

Both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have made it clear that their government will not be instructing the police in carrying out their normal duties. This augurs well for the democratic process they have initiated.

Fiat justitia ruat caelum – Let Justice be done though the heavens fall.

 

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