THE chief justice of Pakistan’s recently constituted police reforms committee (PRC) is a milestone in the politics of police reforms. Traditionally, reforms were born of mutual understanding between ruling classes and police top brass, with public consultation as the least of their priorities. Since 1947, there have been 21 reports on recommendations that were rarely implemented. In the face of serious internal security challenges, this lack of political ownership has greatly impaired public safety in Pakistan.
By employing a diagnostic approach in the public’s interest, and forming a body solely of professional police officers, the superior judiciary has for the first time reposed confidence in the institution’s top brass’s ability to reform itself. It is now their duty to draft a report on how to transform it into an autonomous public service.
Investigation units in particular are in dire need of an overhaul.
Previously, proactive parliamentary interventions for police reform have not been a priority. The colonial Police Act 1861 was substituted by the Police Order 2002, which was validated under the 17th and 18th Amendments. Though PO 2002 temporarily liberated the police, it was disfigured by many changes even before its efficacy was tested.
Amid jubilations over gains under the 18th Amendment, vested interests questioned PO 2002’s validity. Legally, the authority to repeal PO 2002 does not rest with provincial assemblies. But according to their interpretation, law enforcement is a provincial subject, therefore, so too are policing laws. Balochistan and Sindh opted for PA 1861, Punjab kept PO 2002 with some changes, while KP enacted its own police law in 2017.
Historically, law enforcement has been a provincial subject while police law remained in the federal domain. The Pakistan Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure are followed by all provinces, while senior management of the provincial police belongs to the federally administered Police Service of Pakistan. So, with provincial consensus, either the original PO 2002 or a new federal law is to be adopted.
The terms of reference of the PRC include suggestions on improving the quality of investigation. Although PO 2002 separated investigation from operations, increasing security needs, as well as a lack of training and resources, diverted focus away from investigations towards (the more public and comparatively easier) operations, resulting in dismal conviction rates and growing mistrust in the criminal justice system.
Police training at present focuses almost exclusively on physical training with little emphasis on the latest investigation techniques. While some investigators have the enthusiasm and curiosity to learn on the job, most view the investigation wing as a temporary stint before moving on to greener pastures.
Therefore, investigators should be recruited through a professional body that selects the best talent to become permanent, non-transferable fixtures in their wings. They should then undergo specialised training at a dedicated institute. To determine how many investigators to allocate at the district and station level, the PRC needs a formula based on crime incidence rates and populations. In practice, officers in both operations and investigation are evaluated on the same standards, whereas investigators need to be assessed on specific indicators. Tying promotions of senior officers with mandatory tenure in investigation wings will also improve quality and ownership.
To improve coordination among different pillars of the criminal justice system at the district level, Article 109 of PO 2002 provides for the establishment of a seven-member Criminal Justice Coordination Committee. Though it is a coordination body, it often assumes an administrative role, and therefore the PRC should also review its listed functions.
The PRC also needs to address the weak communication link between investigators and victims, by devising procedures that make it binding for investigators to appraise victims about the progress of their case. Investigators should be trained to ensure that the satisfaction of victims is their top priority.
While governments do allocate funds for investigation, most investigators are not aware of reimbursement procedures. Working with the meagre funds typically available, investigators cannot employ the latest techniques. Hence, for different types of crimes, standardised costs should be revised and notified. To discourage corrupt practices and misuse of investigation funds, the public ought to be informed through media. Public awareness will discourage corrupt elements from fleecing the innocents, thereby ensuring that the financial burden on victims will be reduced. This sort of transparency will also improve the police’s image in the public’s eyes.
Ultimately, reforms that do not improve the work environment and work culture at the police station level may not yield the desired dividends.
By Mohammad Ali Babakhel
The writer is the author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.