J. J. Baloch
Mixing politics with police oversight makes the dangerous interference in police working. Attaining the goal of effective and knowledgeable civilian democratic oversight by the police organisations in Pakistan is as important as doing away with undue interference in police practice and culture. Neither our own individual whims nor yet our likes or dislikes should ever govern our professional conduct as police officers.
The rule of law, due process, human rights, and high values of public service should lead police as guiding principles. Interference of any kind whether political or administrative may not be confused with democratic and judicial oversight. However, the difference between legitimate mechanisms to oversee police working is different from bureaucratic and political interference which needs to be resisted as a bad practice in law enforcement.
“The difference between ‘bureaucrats with guns’ and law enforcement officers is simple: police are supposed to be prohibited equally from the pursuit of their own desires and from acting on the whim of politicians. Unlike civil servants, they are not supposed to respond to ‘political masters’. Their job, simply, is to enforce the law.”
Commissioner Hughes APEC Report” (2001) Canada
“Police accountability is defined as a system of internal and external checks and balances aimed at ensuring that police carry out their duties properly and are held responsible if they fail to do so. Such a system is meant to uphold police integrity and deter misconduct and to restore or enhance public confidence in policing. Police integrity refers to normative and other safeguards that keep police from misusing their powers and abusing their rights and privileges.”
Handbook on police accountability, oversight and integrity by UNITED NATION, New York, 2011
Police Services in Pakistan have a richer and more varied experience of political as well as administrative interference. In Pakistan and India, the Britishers established police institution after the war of independence in 1857 with a pronounced purpose to control the public resistance against their regime. Therefore, police remained the instrument of coercion since its very birth in sub-continent. Deputy commissioners or District Magistrates, who were otherwise the revenue officers, were mandated to oversee the police department. Internal as well as external oversight of police had been one of their primary functions. The Police Act 1861 institutionalised this setting. The Torture Commission Report 1855 speaks volumes of police torture in Sub-continent. It is a mirror which shows the real face of the blood-stained regime and the police serving it. More or less Pakistan after its independence continued with same policing legacy, police station culture and police mindsets until Police Order 2002 came into play which claimed a paradigm shift in policing models of Pakistan but it is yet to do away with the colonial police legacy of the yester years.
The Police Order 2002 is a well-crafted state of the art document which is referred as the policing commandments based on the democratic ideals, seeking the establishment of Public Safety Commission, Police Complaint Authority and also putting police department under the elected District Nazism or city Mayors. The negative part of the PO 2002 was the circumstances in which it came into fashion. The authoritarian regime claimed to ensure democratic police oversight and system to control police excesses. Unfortunately, this democratic gospel birthed by the military regime could not sustain the democratic jerks afterwards when Musharaf’s government was no more on the political horizons of Pakistan.
Policing experimentation goes on in Pakistan. Balochistan and Sindh undid PO 2002 while Punjab and KP are redoing it. KP leads in police innovations as Police Ordinance 2016 has allowed greater administrative autonomy to police and has sought to establish an appropriate mechanism for the democratic oversight of police. In Punjab, Administrative Act 2016 is an attempt to revert to bureaucratic police oversight of colonial era. Deputy Commissioner is again empowered to oversee the police. However, to many analysists of governance, PAA 2016 appears to be a boxing behind the smoke screen and an attempt to control police for using them as an instrument of coercion for political motives such as victimising opponents, suppressing dissent, and manoeuvring elections. There is a lot fishy in it. However, a system of proper democratic oversight for police is yet to take shape in Pakistan.
Many international and national police organisations have gone too far ahead in ensuring the appropriate system of external as well as internal police oversight. It is a practice worldwide that primary agency of policing the police is police leadership. There are specific legislations which are required to specify police roles, functions, powers and the limits. Some developing countries like Kenya have established independent Police Oversight Authorities with a clear mandate. However, like Crime Commissioners in England, Mayor in Metropolitan city of London, Police Governance association of Canada, Public safety Canada, American Sheriffs and in many East Asian countries the oversight mandate rests with elected, not bureaucratic, institutions. Anyone who has no mandate but use nuisance to influence police for doing and for not doing certain things which police is not required to do legally and professionally he or she tries to interfere in police work which is a grave disservice to the public. Police must resist such interference at all costs whatsoever.
“Robust accountability structures compose one of the three basic requirements for democratic policing—the others being legitimacy and professionalism.”
(Marenin, O. (2005). Building a global police studies community. Police Quarterly, page 102-136)
In the democratic police oversight, the Canadian model is believed to be the best. The literature on democratic oversight models tells us that Canadians have gone far ahead in ensuring democratic best practices of police governance through the establishment of independent police commissions and boards which are elected and mandated for this exclusive job. “Governance of policing requires time and in-depth understanding of policing from a citizen perspective, not a professional nor political one.” The basic function of these police commissions is to consult the community and to take their feedback on how police behave, work, deliver, and run their show. Police Boards and commissions never consult or bother the cheerleaders, vested interest groups, police puppets, and advertisers of social problems to talk to the police or give their polluted opinions which serve nothing except promoting inefficiency and culture of favouritism at the very cost of the police themselves as well as the public.
Oversight or interference are fundamental benchmarks of what we understand as ‘good governance’. For enabling police to take full responsibility for both the doings as well as the wrongdoings and for attaining the high degree of professional integrity, it is strategic to offer police required autonomy, proper direction, appropriate resources, advanced training both in skills as well as ethics of law enforcement, and encouraging working environment. Police are to perform the diverse functions of controlling the irritants against social order, public peace and law enforcement.
Therefore, the efforts to ensure democratic oversight must include neutralisation of undemocratic and authoritarian elements, institutionalisation of civilian democratic and communitarian controls over the police, visible improvements in service delivery mechanism by ensuring easy access and quick response to the public, adoption of transparency in the procedures of accountability and also containing corrupt and criminal practices in police department.
The Writer is a policing educator and practitioner.