Consultation on police reform: citizens demand a police service, and not a force

Lahore, February 13: A consultation was held at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to discuss the new draft on police reforms that is likely to replace the Police Ordinance, 2002. Various stakeholders including police officials, members of civil bureaucracy, lawyers, human rights activists, journalists and social activists attended the consultation. Members of civil society were encouraged by the willingness of the police to invite comments on the proposed draft. The consultation recognized the crucial need for police reforms and its impact on citizens at large. Therefore, their voices must also be taken into account, because ultimately the people would be the beneficiaries of good policing. The consultation emphasised that the orientation of police reforms must be on community policing. The crux was to shift the focus from the police being a force to a service meant for the people. It was strongly urged that any accountability mechanism must be non-partisan, independent, and accessible to the aggrieved and must have binding powers to enforce its decisions. The tenure of individuals within the accountability bodies must be fixed and protected. It was recommended that the government may consider either setting up a provincial institution of police ombudsperson or a commission/authority that must be selected by an inter-party parliamentary committee. Such a body should be mandated to receive all complaints of alleged human rights abuses, offences and misconduct by the police and should have the powers to enforce its decisions in bringing the errant officers to account. This initiative should not be confused with policy oversight or other measures that may be put in place for building the capacity of the police. It was also pointed out that there can be no accountability unless the people have access to vital information regarding the police workings and crime statistics. Accountability should not be limited to the working methods of the police alone but must also extend to its financial regime so that resources trickle down to the thana level. The participants agreed that much of the present flaws plaguing the police lie in their training. It is, therefore, vital that the present training be reassessed and revised to reflect present day policing needs and address concerns over rights of citizens. Outside evaluation of the training outcomes was emphasised. All promotions and other incentives must be linked to trainings undergone. The participants were of the firm opinion that investigation of crimes should not be transferred without compelling reasons. They also suggested that sanctions be put in place for police officers that are found to have deliberately conducted inefficient and biased investigations. It was agreed that the recruitment method of the police suggested in the draft was appropriate but the participants recommended that recruitment of officers investigating a crime must have the requisite expertise. The draft law is misconceived in suggesting that those making vexatious complaints against the police be punished. Such a provision would discourage an already intimidated citizenry from bringing the police to account. Similarly, proposed penal sanctions for forgery should be deleted as the punishment for it is already provided for in the Pakistan Penal Code, which is far more effective. The participants were highly critical of the centralised manner in which the provincial police chief is appointed by the federal government. They were of the opinion that in order to keep in line with the process of granting greater autonomy to the provinces in matters of administration, the provincial police chief should primarily be appointed by the chief minister of the province in a transparent and non-arbitrary manner. In the same vein, in order to de-politicise the police and to make it more autonomous, all other postings, transfers and promotions should finally be made by the police chief himself/herself. The participants acknowledged the constraints under which the police works and called upon the authorities to have humane working hours for them so that fatigue does not compromise their ability to discharge their duty efficiently. The consultation agreed on setting up a working group that would revise and amend the present draft in line with principles of democratic policing as well as initiate a campaign geared towards reform of the police.

by: I. A Rehman Secretary General

 

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