‘Educating’ the law enforcers

by Muhammad Ali Nekokara

THE Supreme Court of Pakistan, in a judgement last September, ordered the federal and provincial ombudsmen to submit a report ‘on good administration standards for police stations’. An expert committee was constituted in compliance with the order and the committee submitted its report this year. The report, while conceding that police stations cannot be reformed without changing the police culture in a holistic manner, makes some useful suggestions including dedicated police station budgets, recruitment of women in police stations and treatment of juvenile victims and offenders.
The report also makes a controversial recommendation of restoring the ilaqa magistrate (executive magistrate). The rationale given is that the public safety commission as provided under Police Order 2002 lacks the bite to check abuse of power at police stations. Examples of this include illegal detentions and non-registration of cases. It should be remembered that the erstwhile powers of the executive magistrate had been given to the judicial magistrate, after the separation of the judiciary from the executive, as ordained by the Constitution, and not to the PSC. In fact, PSCs were instituted as an additional arrangement to introduce civilian oversight over police and hold them publicly accountable.
Police, since the separation of the judiciary from the executive, are under greater judicial scrutiny than they ever have been under the executive magistrates. The office of executive magistrate, which remained functional for more than 100 years, and remains functional to date in Islamabad, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, failed to effectively check police deviance and high-handedness.
Importantly, the recommendation is in conflict with the constitutional provision (Article 175) of separation of the judiciary from the executive.
But the most interesting recommendation of the committee deals with the need for better education and training in the police. Agreed there is a significant correlation between the overall performance of police officers and education. The report, however, makes an astonishing observation: ‘currently 90 per cent of the force is largely undereducated and without power or authority’; it recommends a ‘higher level of education at every level’.
It is not true that 90pc of the police are undereducated. An analysis of educational qualifications of constables and head constables in different parts of Pakistan provides evidence against this estimate. For example, in Sialkot, a central district of Punjab, out of 1,859 constables, 10pc haven’t completed 10 years of education under Matric level but the remaining 90pc have at least 10 to 16 years of education. The average educational experience of junior ranks (till sub-inspectors) is quite similar in Punjab.
In district Lakki Marwat, KP, 96pc of constables have 10 or more years of education and only 4pc haven’t completed 10 years of education. In Sindh, however, district Khairpur data reveals that the percentage of under-Matric level constables is about 17pc.
The entry-level education requirement for constables across Pakistan is 10 years of education for the last so many years and the 10pc that don’t have that will disappear in due course.
Moreover, the promotion of constables and HCs to the rank of assistant sub-inspector (ASI) and direct recruitment of ASI/SI via public service commissions also require a Bachelor’s degree for aspiring officers/candidates.
It is also untrue that 90pc of police in junior ranks lack power and authority. A police constable, the junior-most rank, wields immense power and authority over citizens’ freedom of movement and right to privacy and property.
Undoubtedly, a better-educated police officer would not only have a deeper understanding of the problems, he would also have better decision-making, communication and report-writing skills and, importantly, respond better to training. However, we also have to keep in mind our social structures, the nature of the job for those who are constables and HCs, and their retention/promotion prospects while deciding entry-level educational requirements for them.
It is not lower education levels but the lack of specialised and focused police training which is primarily responsible for weak professionalism and deviant behaviour. More than higher educational qualifications, it is the level of importance attached to training after recruitment, intensive promotion courses and frequent refresher courses that, among other things, make police officers capable, disciplined and efficient.
The report fittingly recommends “improvement is required in specialised fields such as investigations, collection of evidence, preservation of scene of crime, crowd control, forensics” and advocates sanctioning of training centres, as set up by KP, for investigation methods, explosive-handling, intelligence, riot management and IT and providing required funds to them.
The report rightly notes that constables and HCs constitute about 80pc of the total police number. Ranks of ASI and SI make up another 15pc. It is also true that over 80pc of the police budget is spent on the salaries of constables and HCs. Understandably, as recommended by the committee, there is a need to increase the number of supervisors and reduce the number of constabulary in police to improve supervision and response. We also need to reduce police dependence on low-tech constabulary and gradually replace these with high-tech coppers. The Punjab Safe City Project, for instance, is a useful tool for the purpose.
The committee, overwhelmingly dominated by retired civil servants including bureaucrats and police officers, lacked inclusivity. Consultations were carried out mainly with bureaucrats and police officers with only an insignificant presence of impartial, serious researchers. Interestingly, on an issue of immense public interest, public representatives were not consulted. The committee failed to seek input from any political party, political workers or elected representatives.
The report, importantly, fails to address the observation of the apex court that ‘…[t]he lack of training and emphasis on the development of specialised investigation officers and facilities, is perhaps indicative of the wider issue in policing: the police, it appears is still largely used to securing the interests of the dominant political regime and affluent members of society, rather than furthering the rule of law’. For vulnerable sections of society, the sentiment that ‘the rich get richer and the poor get prison and they also get the police’ remains deeply ingrained.

Dawn.com, September 24. Muhammad Ali Nekokara is a former police officer.

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