Honest and modern policing

05 January 2023
Honest and modern policing

Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed :
The sub-continental police system, of which we are a part, has been examined from the perspective of crime prevention and public order management. The system was developed in the light of colonialism's need to establish a relationship of control, coercion and surveillance over a subject population. A bureaucratic ideology was built to justify the imperial civilizing mission. The Colonial Irish Constabulary became the model for sub-continental police system. A considered view is that native politicians who came to occupy positions of power, after the departure of the colonial power, were enamored by the administrative and police system left behind by the imperialists and enjoyed exercising power and authority, oblivious of their own demand for far-reaching administrative reform. The above background needs to be appreciated if indeed we wish to transform policing into a professional imposition of a coherent moral consensus on society.
As far as basic reform is concerned, it is still not too late to initiate action. Our politicians know very well that policing in Bangladesh has been by and large a one-sided affair, with the communities having little or no say in local policing plans and strategies that affect them most. Our politicians, including legislators, know very well that the Police Act of 1861, the key police law, is silent on the issue of community consultation. This law focused on the responsibility of communities to ensure order, and should any member steps out of line, the whole community would face vicarious punishment. The situation has not changed much. The politician's mind has to appreciate that the Police Act, 1861 was principally aimed at administering a static, immobile and backward rural society living in villages and small towns. It envisaged exercise of authority without local accountability. It presupposed a society without any constitution, basic and fundamental rights, organized public opinion, and mass media projecting the public interest. The need, therefore, is to initiate informed debates and ultimately enact a suitable police act, as has been done in a neighboring country.
The organisational objective is important because in the colonial model the policemen are accountable to their superiors, rather than the public or the law. Their duties are tabulated for them, and there is little or no room for discretion-clearly, such a police force would dictate a very different relationship between police and society. The distinction between society and state and between state and government gets blurred.
Political will is very important because it is at the level of government that law is established, and it is essential to evaluate this aspect when considering the subject of human rights and the police. The police are mandated to act in accordance with the law that establishes the conditions in which they operate. The police service should broadly reflect the society from which it comes. The service should be in touch with the public it polices. In Bangladesh public confidence will increase when the police complaints system will provide for an external body to supervise an investigation, or to review the evidence and conclusions drawn by police investigations, especially when this body shall have the power and the will to carry out an impartial review and order a re-investigation if necessary.
The need of an innovative approach in our police management perhaps merits consideration at this point of time. Can we examine the whole problem of law and order from a sociological angle? In Bangladesh, political manipulation, especially between 1991 - 2006, led to decline in discipline and senior officers were often unable to control undisciplined juniors with political connections. A situation developed wherein intrusion of politics into matters of police management led to solicitation of further political influence. Pervasive disillusionment, loss of pride and collegiality was the result. The establishment has to realize and appreciate that politicization of the police, its unaccountability to the people and its outdated managerial practices largely result from lack of professionalism and accountability within the organization. Political misuse of the police has been the direct result of internal organizational problems and poor performance. One cannot, however, lay all the blame on the political class, ignoring the negative role of the police leadership.
Are  police only meant for crime prevention and law and order management? Finally, we can say that reforming and revitalizing Bangladesh police are a prime need of state. The traditional police must be changed. Political will can ensure the transparency and accountability in Bangladesh police. State will function better and controversy free if the police members are effective and efficient. Nowadays in many cases the activities of police have become questioned. People cannot depend on them. So a case of distrust and misunderstanding prevail side by side among the people and police members. This bad culture should not be continued. Police must be pro-active and pro-people. Dealings and behavioral attitude towards the people should be very cordial and people must have the easy access to police without fear and hesitation. Only the honesty and responsibility can enhance a congenial environment in society. It is only possible when relationship between police and people gets a height of standard and ethics. In Bangladesh, police do many odd jobs, which are not meant for them. Police have their respective job field. They should not interrupt other people's job. Police force has its own charter of duties. They cannot go out of track. If there is a need to inculcate or assign more duties on police, it must be done in proper way in the process of reformation. However, Political may play a significant role for effective and modern policing which ultimately can help and promote achieving goals in 2030 and 2041.

(The writer is former Deputy Director General, Bangladesh Ansar & VDP).

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