J. J. Baloch
The rapidly changing times of digital democracy, high connectivity, greater freedom and easy access to everything in real time keep redefining the role of police officers in the 21st century. Pakistan claims no exception to this rule. This phenomenon has made policing not only a difficult but also a very dangerous job to perform. However, the training discourse of police officers in any police academy anywhere in the world reveals with unmistakable clarity that police officers are groomed as warriors rather than the guardians.
The policing challenges in the 21st century require policing educators to revisit the basic structure of their training designs which appear to be inherently flawed in the context of emerging socio-political realities. If we examine the policing literature of any academy or any police publications from any part of the world, warrior mentality would appear to be a dominant and recurrent theme, filled with great slogans and enthusiasm for waging war on everything-crime, drugs, illegal weapons, terrorism etc. Indeed, it is important to instil the physical spark in young officers facing the challenges of crime, but the more important is to inculcate in them the moral values of courage, confidence, optimism, cordiality, honesty, service delivery, passion, empathy, impartiality, democracy and rule of law in building their integrity of character which could serve as an instrumental in winning the public trust.
The police officers in Pakistan, as a general practice and a common tradition, are used to be trained as the best warriors instead of the best guardians. It is the general perception in almost all the policy circles of law enforcement and government that only warriors can engage any kind of threat in a befitting manner and can better serve and protect their communities or localities from nearly any threat while standing on thin blue line. Such thin blue line is always drawn between law-abiding citizens and the criminals.
It goes without saying that the police have become a trickier and riskier profession and everyone can hardly survive the dangers associated and threats involved in enforcing the writ of the law. Today, than ever before, the culture of uncertainty and mistrust dominate the very attitude of police officers. In many cases, it has been observed that criminals and outlaws or what we call non-state actors are doing the role of the guardians of the people in terms of guaranteeing them the protection of their cultural, economic, political and social rights. This becomes alarming when public begin to trust terrorists and drug peddlers more than they trust their police and this has been witnessed in many parts of Pakistan during our war on terror. Winning such seminal war without enlisting public support is, indeed, a misnomer. Many research studies have found that war on terror can never be won without effective policing. And there could always be the remotest chances of police to win such a war without mandatorily winning the public trust before engaging in such a deadly showdown.
There is little doubt in the fact that the police officers tend to invoke their inner warrior instinct instantly. There are some scholars and scientists, however, who suggest that the current model of training structure, organisation and indeed culture, among police departments, is setting law enforcement up for a collision course with the citizens who the police officers are sworn to serve and protect. Articles and even books such as Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko (2013) and The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale (2017) have raised serious concerns for what the perceived militarization of police means for law enforcement and for fundamental rights of the citizens.
In Rise of the Warrior Cop, Balko shows how politicians’ ill-considered policies and relentless declarations of war against vague enemies like crime, drugs, and terror have blurred the distinction between cop and soldier. His fascinating and frightening narrative shows how over a generation, a creeping battlefield mentality has isolated and alienated American police officers and put them on a collision course with the values of a free society. Balko focuses on many policies and police practice instances which are castigated to have posed the serious threat to the fundamental rights or civil liberties of the US citizens as enshrined in their much celebrated 4th Amendment. Nixon’s War on Drugs, Reagan’s War on Poverty, Clinton’s COPS program, the post–9/11 security state under Bush and Obama: by degrees, each of these innovations expanded and empowered police forces, always at the expense of civil liberties. And these are just four among a slew of reckless programs.
However, Alex S. Vitale in his critique: “The End of Policing” goes further in condemning the militarized role of police in very clear and categorical terms; he maintains that the problem is not with police officers’ attitude and training but rather the substantial problem is with policing itself. He argues that policing must end and modern democratic society no longer needs authoritative, dictatorial and punitive methodologies to encroach upon fundamental rights of the people in the name of establishing peace and order. He believes that policing can be replaced by employing restorative, legal and humanitarian methods of addressing the problems of crime and disorder through rehabilitation of non-conformists within the given societies. To him, it is in the very nature of policing as a form of coercive and blatant force that it stands in the way of protecting human rights. He attacks policing as a burden on public exchequer and recommends for cost-effective community voluntarism of pre-state societies to be more effective than the modern security paradigm which is designed to thrive on taxing the public in the garb of public safety. Finally, he infers that crime will never end if the police get more powers and more budgets because the end of crime will make the police no longer relevant to societies, so it is in the very nature of policing to let some sort of crime exist. These findings may make us very uncomfortable as working in policing industry but there is a large number of people who concur with the Vitale’s notion in Pakistan and this book is a clarion call to make our house in order by assuming truly the role of a guardian.
The case of Pakistan police is quite different from American police in many ways. However, some existing commonalities in both cases need to be highlighted here. In America the police officers are blamed to be taking on the role of the military while in Pakistan Para-military forces, like rangers, have assumed the policing function due to consistent violence in our cities since the 1990s when ethnic and sectarian violence raised their ugly faces, killing many innocent people. Now the same culture of reckless violence has joined the ghost of terrorism which is fed by growing religious militancy and extremist ideologies both at home and in neighbouring countries like India and Afghanistan. The common in critique is the fact that in both the cases of US as well as Pakistan, the police are not doing policing but rather performing a military function that tarnishes the image of police as a social service which is tasked by the constitution to protect the fundamental rights of their citizenry as their primary and core job.
In Pakistan, the relationship between the police and the public has remained regrettably tenuous. Since its very inception in the second half of 19th century on Irish Constabulary model which was mandated to suppress the rebellions like that of 1857 in British India, the Police have been lacklustre in building the image of the guardians of the rights of the people. On the contrary, the common men in the streets believe that the police are the coercive tool of the government to get their unlawful job done. There are others who take police as the government’s occupying force which is toned and tuned to deprive people of their rights by being hand in glow with political and criminal actors within the society.
The good news for all Pakistanis is that like all other police forces in the world, the police departments in Pakistan are coming back to their basics. The police reforms in Pakistan is the on-going process and the duties of police officers are no longer to dance to the tunes of the people in power but to follow the procedure and to act in accordance with law without fear and favour. Police Order 2002 redefined the role of police officers as the guardian of the fundamental rights of the people and this notion stands validated by many superior court judgements in Pakistan. The transformation of KP police in Pakistan from regime service to the public service through their new legislation of Police Act 2017 has generated new debate about the redefined role of police officers as the guardians to serve and protect their communities with rejuvenated passion in changing police demographics-Millennials- of the 21st century.
The overwhelming inefficiency of police in performing their core functions has increased the public scrutiny of police officers and police departments in Pakistan. Social media technology is making public scrutiny much easier and stricter. The public has always expected high ethical standards from police officers and so much more so now than ever before. The incidents like model town Lahore, 12 May 2007 Karachi, and incapacity to restore public life during frequent Dharnas-Crowd Demonstration- in Islamabad D Chowk and Faizabad and their live media coverage have gone a long way in exposing the helplessness, negligence and non-professionalism of our police force and in necessitating change in everything policing and police.
In the intensely connected societies of ours, people can hardly take any pain in exposing police officers misconduct with public instantly on real-time media. Flash forward to the “Age of the Internet” where everything is accessible hands down to every Tom, Dick and Harry with Smartphones and tablets in their hands, they can show wrongdoings of police officers thereof to thousands, if not to millions of people. There are still others who think nothing of purposefully goading police officers and pushing the envelope as far as they can while remaining within their rights. People miss no opportunity to expose the ignorance of police with regards to the very laws that the police officers are supposed to enforce, the procedures they are trained to follow and the rights they are sworn to uphold. In the recent episode of Faizabad sit-in by Labaik Ya Rasul Allah movement protesters, the weaknesses of police strategy, planning and conduct were fully exploited by the protesters on social media while the electronic media was banned by the government for few days. Police departments around the world still espouse their role as guardians of public rights in their slogans and their mission statements. It does not take long, however, for new officers to begin to see themselves as set apart from, rather than a part of, protecting the civil liberties of their citizenry.
The warrior image of police officers erodes public trust and eroded public trust is eroding police effectiveness as the builder and keepers of peace in Pakistan as well as in every society worldwide. In such state of affairs police officers fail to help and defend themselves. Instead of showing measured, thoughtful and intelligent responses, police officers view any challenge to their authority as a threat that must be subdued or eliminated. This bravado is getting both citizens and police officers hurt and only serve to further diminish the public trust in police and policing.
The Writer is an author of “Whiter than White”-a novel and a senior police officer at Police Service of Pakistan…