Police in Bangladesh: how can they be made more efficient and accountable?

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Barrister Nazir Ahmed


In theory and practice, there are (should always be) two levels of responsibilities in the Police Service.  One is the policy level and the other is the operation level.  The policy level [i.e. formulating policies for law and order in accordance with the political commitment or election manifesto of the party or parties in power] is dealt with and controlled by the Home Minister, usually an elected politician, who is accountable and responsible to the public, through Parliament, for policy matters.  On the other hand, the operation level [i.e. inquiry, investigation, arrest, charge, police bail etc] is controlled and managed by the professional civil servants within the Police Service, like Inspector General (IG), Police Commissioners, and Superintendent of Police (SP) etc, who are responsible and accountable for all operational matters.  This is exactly what we see in the UK where the Home Secretary [Cabinet Minister], an elected politician, is responsible for all policy matters and Metropolitan Police Commissioners and Chef Constables are wholly responsible and accountable for operational matters.  They do not cross their respective boundary or transgress each other’s clearly set arena.  This clear division of responsibility and accountability is essential, in multiparty democracy where a party or parties run the country, for applying the law equally to everyone, irrespective of any political affiliation.  We frequently see in the UK that when a major incident or accident happens police usually deal with all operational matters including investigation, inquiry, arrest, charge etc without any interference from the politicians.  The police inform the public of all developments through press release and press conference.  We do not see politicians becoming over active or giving false hope and expectation of arresting culprits within such and such period or engaging in blame games. 


But in Bangladesh, we see quite the opposite. Thus, as expected, we are getting counter-productive results.  Instead of improving, the law and order situation is getting worse to worst.  Laws are neither equally applied nor allowed to take its’ own course.  The degree of enforcement of the law depends on who the law is to be applied for.  Immediately after a major incident happens, politicians [usually Home Minister or Deputy Home Minister] tend to give false hope or misleading information to the public.  Blame game automatically starts rolling.  Police then bring the responsibility upon their shoulders to prove what the politicians have already said.  As a result of crossing the boundary and direct interference of the police’s operational activities by the politicians, the law and order situation is getting worse day by day.  Unless the above mentioned division of responsibilities and accountabilities is acknowledged and truly practised, the law and order situation is bound to go from bad through worse to worst.  Before it goes too far and beyond control, the government must realise this.  Otherwise, the nation will continue suffering, the end of which God would only know.   


The Police Force is one of the designated disciplined forces of the sovereign country.  They should be dealt with great care and sensitivity.  Patriotism and high morale should be their motto and guiding force.  Each and every member of the police force expects to be treated fairly, promoted based on their merit and performance.  Nepotism, promotion based on party affiliation and regionalism, recruitment based on quota as opposed to merit break their backbone and morale.  An Assistant Deputy Commissioner (ADC) of Metropolitan Police named Harun-Ur Rashid was promoted to the position of Deputy Commissioner (DC) because he was able to publicly beat and torture the Chief Whip of the main opposition party in the Parliament area in July 201 in open day light. 


The same officer remained an onlooker when activists of the Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, were hacking Bishawjit Das to death in December 2012.  Another officer named Nazrul Islam, the erstwhile officer-in-charge of the Sutrapur police, witnessed the fatal attack on Bishawjit without taking any action against the unruly Chhatra League cadres.  They have recently been shortlisted for the President Police Medal (PPM) award.  According to the Daily New Age’s (dated 20 January 2013) editorial “Clearly, in awarding gallantry award to the police officers, the home ministry has followed the policy of rewarding those who have either repressed opposition leaders and activists or helped ruling party activists in carrying out repressions against political opponents. No right-thinking citizen can appreciate the policy.”  Having seen this, how would other neutral and efficient police officers feel?  How can they be motivated to apply the law equally and impartially?  Similarly, how would police officers feel when they see in their open eye that their colleagues of particular district [currently Gupalgonj and Kishoregonj are at the top] or former party cadres with low or poor calibre and performance are automatically promoted or put in the key positions?  This will, no doubt, damage the other police officers’ morale and motivation.        


The police are supposed to be friends of the people.  Their morality, practical approach and visible dedication should attract unquestionable love and respect of the people for them.  They should bring the majority people of the society in their confidence in order to combat the criminals, a small fraction of the society.  Otherwise, how can a police force of less than 2 lakhs in number control the law and order situation of the country with more than 160 million people?  But, unfortunately, we are observing the opposite in the country.  Police are not considered as friends by overwhelming majority of the people of Bangladesh.  Police are feared and hated by the public.  Most people try their best to avoid from coming in touch with the police fearing that the police will take bribe from them forcefully or implicate with false cases in an attempt to take bribe.  Often people take the law in their own hand thinking that the police will take no action or implicate the innocents with chain of cases.      


An apparent bad culture has recently developed where police, after an incident happened, often file cases against thousand [often the number goes from 5,000 to 10,000 people] of unknown and identified people.  The judiciary seems to be silent on this matter.  The police have probably taken this silence as consent or implied permission.  How can the police be allowed to file such cases?  How is this deplorable practice tolerated by the judiciary?  Law cannot be applied on abstract or empty space.  In a civilised country like the UK, a case cannot be filed against persons unless the persons are properly known and identified.  Allowing the police to file cases against thousands of unknown and identified persons means giving free consent/licence to the police to misuse the law and abuse their power as they wish.  They can use these as vehicles to collect tolls or bribes.  They can catch or grab any innocent persons and threat them to implicate with cases unless certain amounts of money are given.  The innocent persons often feel compelled to pay bribes to avoid unwanted and unexpected harassment.  This is exactly what is happening in Bangladesh in a wider scale.  The police are, thereby, violating constitutional rights [Article 27, 28, 31, 32, 33 & 35 of the Constitution] of the people of Bangladesh.  The judiciary as a whole and the apex judiciary in particular have greater role to play in this matter.  Unless the police are controlled with heavy hand, the stability of the society can be shaken.


The police force appears to have lack of modern resources, and moral and human rights trainings.  They do not seem to know how to behave properly with the public in meetings and demonstration.  Respecting human dignity and honouring human rights seem to be outside their professional boundary.  In village areas, the police constables are seen to wear peon/clerk type of dress and carry 4-5 fit long gun, which they are not even permitted to use even in need.  What is the purpose of carrying out such heavy guns and wearing awkward dress?  Dresses often command loyalty and respect.  The dress of the police force in the Metropolitan areas can be said to be satisfactory.  However, the dress of their fellow colleagues in non urban areas appears to be deplorable.  The salary and facilities of the police force are not attractive compared to the other professionals or forces.  This, many suggest, prompts the police officers to recourse to the unlawful means and ways to compensate their depravation and grievances. 


In order to make the police more professional, efficient and accountable to serve the primary purpose of maintaining the country’s law and order, the following suggestions could be put forward for the active consideration of the government:


  1. 1.Policy level and operational level must clearly be marked/set and the police should be given absolute responsibility to deal with all operational matters without any political interference.


  1. 2.Appointment and promotion within the Police Service should solely be based on merit, performance and experience as opposed to nepotism, regionalism and party affiliation or belongings.


  1. 3.Police should be given proper resources that are appropriate/suitable to the modern times and their dress and its colour should be reformed in such a way that could command respect of the wider public.


  1. 4.Police should not only be given physical trainings, but they should also be trained intensively and extensively on morality and human rights.


  1. 5.Salaries of the police force as a whole should be increased to a satisfactory level so that they can live in the society with pride and dignity bearing in mind that ‘The necessity knows no bounds.’  At the same time tougher measures [such as exemplary punishment for illegal means/methods keeping in mind the theory of deterrence] should be introduced against corruption and bribe.


  1. 6.An independent high powered Commission or Body should be set up to receive and investigate thoroughly the complaints against theThe Commission or the Body should be given wider power to give exemplary punishment to the corrupted police officers as they think fit and proper.


Barrister Nazir Ahmed: Legal expert, analyst, writer and columnist

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