Monday, 4 April 2011

Police Reform Efforts in Pakistan

Police Reform Efforts in Pakistan.
The first police reform attempt was Bill XXV of 1948 (The City of Karachi Police Act, 1948), establishing a modern police force for Karachi, the capital of Sindh. It proposed the appointment of a commissioner of police who would have the power to enforce order in processions and public meetings, issue permits, and regulate arms and licenses. Unfortunately, the bill did not become law – even though it was duly passed by the Sindh Legislative Assembly – as the powerful vested interests did not let it to be presented to the ailing Governor General for his authentication.

Subsequently, several committees and commissions were tasked to evaluate the police system over the next more than three decades. The reports of these commissions, however, were confined mostly to reviewing the police organization. None of them was tasked to examine fundamental issues such as how to police a free society; how the police should respond to mounting demands of emerging human rights concerns; how law enforcement should cope with rapidly altering psycho-social environment; and how the police should orientate itself in the age of free and independent media.   

On police-executive relationship, the Police Commission 1960-61, while generally agreeing that the district officer should be treated as the head of the district, nonetheless observed:

“This does not mean, however, that the district magistrate should regard the superintendent of police as his assistant …… The superintendent of police should be regarded as the head in the district of his department …… The day appears to have arrived when rules such as those authorizing the district magistrate to transfer a sub-inspector or to report upon a sub-inspector or inspect police stations should be abolished.”

The issue was again discussed by yet another Police Commission (1969-70), headed by Major General A. O. Mitha. While discussing the nature and extent of overseeing of police by the district officer, the Commission concluded:

“The need is for establishing clearly and unmistakably the fact that the superintendent of police in a district is the undisputed head of the police force in his district and that the district magistrate must not interfere in the day to day or internal administration of the police force. By internal administration we mean training, recruitment, postings, transfers, punishments and awards, discipline, disposition and deployment/employment of the force.”
The most meaningful effort on how to reform the more-than-century-old police system, however, was undertaken in 1985, when the Police Committee was tasked to make a comprehensive review of the police system after taking into account the psycho-social changes since the enactment of the Police Act 1861. More importantly, the Committee was asked to recommend measures and institutional arrangements to prevent misuse of powers by the police, as well as misuse of the police by the executive. 

The Committee found that the symbiotic relationship and nexus between police and the executive was a major cause of serious police misconduct. It recommended measures to address the core problem of insulating the police from illegitimate political, bureaucratic or other extraneous interference. The Committee likewise emphasized the need to secure professional independence for the police to function truly and efficiently as an impartial instrument of the law, not a tool of the ruling elite. 

                         The Police Committee also made various major recommendations to change the archaic structure of the police, especially in relation to urban policing. It recommended introduction of metropolitan police system similar to the Indian cities of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, initially in capital cities of Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta. Most significantly, the Committee recommended that Police Act of 1861 should be replaced by a new Police Act encompassing much enlarged role of the police as an agency which promotes the rule of law in the country and renders impartial service to the community.

Several studies conducted by various experts from other jurisdictions likewise recommended fundamental changes in the whole policing philosophy. It was pointed out that an effective, viable, independent but publicly accountable police was crucial to the development of stable democratic government institutions. There was also a consensus on the need to depoliticize and professionalize the police. Experts observed that the police should be operationally neutral, organizationally autonomous, functionally specialized, institutionally accountable, and service-oriented.

Although the work of various committees and commissions served as a template of nascent police reform initiatives, their recommended changes in the police organization mostly remained either unaccepted or unimplemented. In post-independence Pakistan, unfortunately, the people did not witness any significant reform of the police, but instead the police grew in its nuisance value as local elite relied on the police to consolidate their power and in the process further corrupted the police by asking it to carry out illegal acts in furtherance of their immediate political gains. Police reputation declined to a point where even well-connected and respected citizens were wary of dealings with the police. They perceived police not as an instrument of rule of law, but as a corrupt, militaristic, insensitive and a highly politicized force, operating mainly to look after the interests of the powerful.

In 1999, the Government set up the National Reconstruction Bureau to bring fundamental reforms in political and administrative structures of the country, including reinventing the police. A Think Tank on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice was tasked to propose a comprehensive police reform strategy. The key issues debated in the process of formulation of a police reforms package included: (a) what kind of organization will Pakistan Police need to meet the 21st century law and order challenges? (b) Which model would be most suited in bringing about a radical change in the existing intolerably high level of police-public estrangement? (c) How could such an organization be subjected to effective democratic control, yet ensuring its political neutrality?

It took the Think Tank more than two years to deliberate upon various aspects of the blueprint of police reforms. The Think Tank drafted a police law which was later promulgated as Police Order 2002. The 141-year-old anachronistic Police Act of 1861 was finally replaced with a modern police law.

In the meantime, the Government took the historic decision to abolish the office of the District Magistrate with effect from 14th August 2001, thus ending the long debated executive magisterial control over police. Indeed, one of the important balancing factors in police-executive relationship was complete separation of executive and judiciary as mandated by Article 175 (3) of the Constitution.

No less than the preamble of Police Order 2002 enunciated the goals of reconstructing the police force and redefining its role—reflecting a fundamental change in policing philosophy. It also identified professionalism, being service-oriented, and accountability, as essential attributes that the police force should strive to possess. The principal features of the new law are as follows:

(i)               It redefines in clear terms the role and responsibilities of the police.
(ii)              It seeks to improve human security and access to justice within the ambit of rule of law.
(iii)            It phases out obsolete police management practices.
(iv)            It provides for enhancing police professionalism.
(v)             It introduces new powers to improve police discipline.
(vi)            It strengthens external police accountability through institutionalized civil society oversight.
(vii)           It aims to transform the police into a public-friendly service-delivery organization.
(viii)         It makes it obligatory for the government to establish police-public consultative committees. 

A critically important feature of the new law is that whereas the Police Act of 1861 vested the undefined ‘superintendence’ of police in the hands of the political executive, Police Order 2002 restricts the power of superintendence to ensuring that the police performs its duties efficiently and strictly in accordance with law. Not only was the organisational structure substantially strengthened, the new law also gave enhanced administrative, financial and disciplinary powers to the inspector general of police.

In a bid to insulate police from extraneous interference by the politicians in power, and emulating the Japanese public safety commission system with elements of the British ‘police authority’ model, the new law provided for the establishment of public safety commissions at national, province and district levels. These statutory bodies allowed, for the first time, representation from opposition parties and members of civil society, including one-third reserved seats for women. Indeed, this arrangement is a major step toward fostering credible police-community partnership, gender-sensitive policing and operational neutrality of police.

                      The Police Order was drafted keeping in view the emerging challenges and complexities of a dynamic society in the twenty-first century. It introduced a new concept of giving an effective role and voice to the opposition in the management of the most important arm of the government i.e. law enforcing agencies. The process of reinvention is indicative of the fact that the political and police leaderships in Pakistan realize that the police have to respond to the expectations of their customers if they are to be effective.

The public safety commissions determine the direction of police through approving policing plans, monitoring police performance on the basis of the policing plans, setting standards, and submitting annual performance reports to the government as also to the parliament. They are meant to act as a conduit for communicating citizen concerns to the police and getting these concerns translated into policing operational priorities. The commissions also provide a measure of protection to the police officers against illegal orders by the executive authorities through a right of recourse.

The National Public Safety Commission has twelve members of which half are independent members and other half are the members of the National Assembly equally represented from the treasury and the opposition. The Minister of Interior who has a casting vote heads the Commission. The Commission recommends panels of names for appointment of the heads of federal law enforcement agencies, approves there annual operational plans and oversees their performance on the basis of targets set in the plans.

The threat of transfer is often used by the political executive as a tool to pressure officers to cater to their interests even at the risk of subverting the law. This adversely affects the morale and discipline of police officers. Police Order 2002 not only lays down a fixed tenure of three years for key police appointments but also requires that premature transfers be made on the recommendations of relevant public safety commission. 

To effectively control police misbehaviour, Police Order 2002 provides for an independent Police Complaint Authority at the national level, and merges the Police Complaint Authority at the provincial level with the Provincial and District Public Safety Commissions.

Police Order 2002 significantly strengthens internal police accountability by criminalising a range of police malpractices such as non-registration of crime reports (First Information Reports [FIRs]), vexatious entry, search, arrest, seizure of property, and use of torture and third degree, delay in bringing to court any arrested person or in notifying the court of the grounds of arrest.

Recognising the importance of community policing, Police Order 2002 makes it obligatory for the Government to establish citizen police liaison committees. The purpose is to help establish and maintain police-public partnership, promote communication and cooperation between citizens and police, enhance transparency in police functioning and strengthen police responsiveness to the community.

If properly and sincerely implemented, Police Order 2002 provides the basis for a modern and progressive 21st century system of policing. However, like the previous efforts to reform police, scuttled at the time of their implementation, the Police Order in its original form could exist only for 2 years and was amended in November 2004 to accommodate the ‘viewpoint’ of provincial governments. These amendments introduced certain basic modifications in the law including changes in the composition of the public safety commissions at the district and provincial levels; redefining of the role and the nature of control of provincial government over police; the extent of authority that the Zila Nazim exercises over the district police officer; and the ability of the district commissions vis-à-vis the Zila Naim.

Similarly, whereas originally the National Public Safety Commission had the prerogative to recommend a panel of three police officers to the provincial government to fill the slot for the Provincial Police Officer (PPO), the method of appointment of the PPO was modified and now the federal government – and not the National Public Safety Commission – recommends the panel of officers.

The police reforms introduced through Police Order 2002, the subsequent amendments notwithstanding, have nonetheless brought a fundamental change in the police-executive relationship as police is no longer the sole domain of the sitting government, and the concept of democratic control has been firmly established. The commissions at the provincial and district levels still retain the all-important function of public safety through civil society oversight, though changed somewhat structurally and in terms of their roles.

The establishment of public safety commissions, where the opposition has been given a statutory responsibility to deal with vital and important matters of law enforcement is a unique experiment in South Asia. Indeed, this is a remarkable progress towards realization of the vision of a police that is only answerable to law.
 Police-executive relations are indicative of level of political development in a country. In a mature democracy the police would be under far less executive control and influence than in an evolving democracy or in a country under dictatorial rule. The police-executive relations cannot be changed merely through legislation or executive orders. In countries where reforms are implemented to bring a fundamental qualitative change in police-executive relationship, it takes time to resolve conflicts and address problems of change over from the old to the new order. In Pakistan the approach adopted was sort of a revolutionary nature.  A system which was more than a century old was sought to be changed over night. To bring about transformation of this magnitude, a large number of new institutions had to be put in place, quickly and properly. The net result is that the envisaged forums of oversight and redress of public grievances against police are yet to become fully functional, credible, and widely available.

A fundamental prerequisite for success of a reform strategy is publicly demonstrated political will and continuing commitment of all stakeholders to support and sustain the expected outcomes of that strategy. When the reform further involves a challenge to foster democratic governance, rule of law and human security, a broad agreement across the political landscape on the future role and responsibilities of the police is essential. 

Police reform cannot but be about creating a police force that works better. It is about closing the trust deficit: proving to the people that new police will be there principally to serve. For this, governments need to listen to senior police administrators who know the police best—who know what works, what does not, and how things ought to be changed. They also need to hear from experts as well as the stakeholders—the police, the judiciary, and the people—and seek their ideas, inputs and inspiration. They need to hold discussions with business leaders who have successfully introduced innovative management practices to turn their organizations around. They need to consult public administration experts who know how best to apply the principles of reinventing public sector organizations to improving police services. Governments need to have meaningful dialogue with the best minds from the private sector and civil society.  On the basis of these consultations, a blueprint can be drawn.  This blueprint should identify the focus areas and map out the corresponding strategies to carry out the reform agenda at various levels. 

Finally, police-executive relationship cannot be reformed without reference to the criminal justice system and to the larger political and social order of society. Any police reform strategy will have to take into account a number of variables such as the structure of government, balance between federal and provincial governments, or between provincial and local governments, the role of the judiciary, military, and political parties in administrative affairs of the country, the role of public prosecutors and defence lawyers, professional leadership in the police, police mandate, the basis of legitimacy of the police (from an adversarial to a consensus or a community model). Equally important, if not more important, is to consider less tangible features of a society, like its social structure and cultural expectations.


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