- Policing should focus on the investigation
The police reform agenda is often marred by self interest and sustaining control over police operational command structure. The trinity of reform elements includes public, police force and accountability mechanism in the organization. Often the issue oscillates between the department and its oversight, thus overlooking conveniently people’s aspirations and desires on the subject. Thus whatever translates into action is a small percentage of what has been conceived on paper.
There is an anti-police-sentiment in the air nowadays. The electronic media is splashing news about police brutality, highhandedness and lackadaisical attitude of the force on daily basis. It seems as if the whole police department has ceased to function properly. Though there are areas in police organization which warrant immediate intervention and reforms, the whole force should not be blamed for the slackness of a few police officials. The real culprits are those who have introduced cosmetic measures to sustain their positions in the name of police reforms. Apart from a few interventions, the bulk of police reforms have been focused on establishing parallel systems to police working and bypassing police stations in public service delivery matters. If the real malaise lies in police stations then the majority of experiments have been aimed at ignoring the root cause of the problem and tried to create units operating independently and without any cooperation and coordination with local police. The functional specialization was introduced under Police Order 2002 at police station level but the police department could not execute it wholeheartedly and with full vigour.
The police should desist from keeping anyone in illegal custody or using any form of torture to effect recovery in any case. The investigating officer must collect the available evidence and put the culprit before court for conviction stating clearly why no recovery is made during the investigation. No undue pressure from any quarter should be accepted during the course of investigation for recovery
A police commander at district level and his counterpart in investigation usually lock horns in a futile battle for command and supervision over investigation matters. The investigation funds are distributed in such a fashion that most of the investigating officers submit the case-related bills either at the end of a financial year or after the completion of investigation and submission of challan. The investigating officers rarely receive the money as they have already greased the system through the ‘cooperation’ of parties involved in cases during different stages of investigation, which ranges from registration of First Information Report (FIR) to apprehension of accused and from taking physical remand of a culprit to effecting recovery from him or her in a case. Hence, as the concept of separation of investigation is introduced at police stations, Station House Officers (SHOs) become detached and indifferent to the investigating matters, even those which are directly related to law and order situations. Their main concern is that they have been weakened and reduced to a position where their role is limited to registration of cases. Such thinking has not only created divisions at police stations but the force also has started losing its coherence and cogency. Similarly, the introduction of homicide units at police stations has never been seriously executed and majority of these units still lack proper human and material resources in Punjab.
Moreover, no proper performance evaluation mechanism was envisaged to monitor the output of the specialized investigation units at police station level. Even the front desk system whereby a civilian interface has been created at every police station to ease public grievances and complaints is kept out of reach of the Station House Officer, thinking that the system has better chances for service delivery if the in-charge of the police station is detached from it. Such actions created further fissures and ruptures at the police station which has been slowly leading towards undermining its working and performance. Such a situation has also compromised the police command structure in autonomy and independence.
The investigation is the principal area of responsibility of a police department. During any investigation a complainant has to go through an enormous ordeal while pursuing his or her matter till finalization of the case and the starting of trial in a court of law. There are various stages during an investigation when a complainant feels that the system is supporting the culprit instead of the aggrieved person. The complainant has to take the lead to set the system into motion. However, in certain cases a supervisory officer may also become a traction factor to expedite an investigation. The system creates an environment in which an investigating officer commits acts in a way bordering on illegality to benefit one of the two parties involved in a case. The failure to put the system on automatic working on account of multiple factors is the leading cause why an error is committed again and again after certain period of time.
The way out of the present situation is difficult but not impossible. First, we need to activate Public Safety Commissions (PSCs) at various levels as envisioned in Police Order 2002. Here it should be kept in mind that its members should not be politicians of the locality since it will make the whole body heavily politicized. We should also desist from appointing the Deputy Commissioner (DC) as its head since it will recreate dyarchy system which the country has already experienced for past many years. Since the District and Sessions Judge is already heading the Criminal Justice Coordination Committee (CJCC) hence the most viable option is that the latter be made its head, or the Local Body (LB) system of any shape and structure might elect members and chairperson of the commission. Second, the police should desist from keeping anyone in illegal custody or using any form of torture to effect recovery in any case. The investigating officer must collect the available evidence and put the culprit before court for conviction stating clearly why no recovery is made during the investigation. No undue pressure from any quarter should be accepted during the course of investigation for recovery. Third, senior supervisory officers must develop a bond with the junior colleagues so that their problems and hurdles during investigation may be resolved at subdivision or district level. It will automatically strengthen their morale and enhance their monitoring as well. Fourth, all resources should be given at the disposal of SHO to face variegated challenges every day. Lastly, any public humiliation or assault on police force should not be tolerated at any cost.
We must strengthen our police stations and protect our police force against unnecessary public and media bashing. It is time to develop a culture in police which limits personality cults and promotes discipline and control in the force.