It’s time for a metropolitan police force

By Zubeida Mustafa

Today, crime is a game in which the police are better than the criminal. Only the MPF can control this situation.

The public’s perception of the police in Pakistan cannot be better illustrated than from this story doing the rounds a few years ago.

At an international convention of police officers, the representatives of some countries were bragging about their expertise. The head of the Scotland Yard said: “When a crime is committed, my men take barely a month to solve it and nab the criminal.” The FBI chief retorted, “Really. We are much quicker. It takes us only a fortnight.” The Soviet KGB head piped in, “Oh that is nothing. For us a week is enough.” At this point, the Pakistan delegate had the last word, “By the grace of Allah, we have no problems at all. We know about the crime even before it is committed!”

This might be only an anecdote spiced up with exaggeration. But it does speak of the phenomenon described at the criminalization of the police in Pakistan. Who doesn’t have a shocking tale to narrate about his/her experience with the custodians of the law?

It could be as innocuous as the traffic constable stopping your car and trying to extract some money from you for a transgression that was not even committed. Or the police-men in uniform who stroll down the street and collect their ration gratis from the green-grocer. Then there are the horror stories of innocent youths being arrested and ransom being demanded for their release. Death in police custody has become quite a common occurrence today.

As a result, the people of Karachi have come to view the police as agents of terror and oppression. At a time when peace is the city’s top priority, it can ill-afford this crisis of confidence in the custodians of the law. It has grave implications for the future of the city. The people have now begun to despair. There is no one to turn to for protection.

There is, however, one citizen of Karachi who has not given up hope. He is Jameel Yousuf, the industrialist, who along with Nazim Haji set up the Citizen-Police Liaison Committee back in 1990. Yousuf has a plan for the reorganization of the police. That he means business was evident from the fact that a month after he had presented the scheme to Mr. Nawaz Sharif, he has managed to convince the prime minister to give it a try. Last week it was announced that a police reform commission would be set up to restructure the force on the line suggested by Jameel Yousuf. In a city where nothing moves, except corpses in gunny bags, Yousuf has performed no less than a miracle. The prime minister was obliged to heed because CPLC’s success is so striking. It has brought down the incidence of kidnapping in Karachi from 79 in 1990 to 18 in 1998 with a successful detection rate of 82 per cent.

Not that Jameel Yousuf paints a rosy picture of the situation in Karachi. He knows better. Car theft/snatching, on which he has focused by computerizing all records, has continued to grow phenomenally. In 1993, 6,255 vehicles were snatched/stolen in the city. In the first ten months of 1998, this figure had escalated to 12,076. Besides, Yousuf is seized of the numerous problems the citizens encounter with the police which he keeps confidential.

“This city is like a collapsing structure,” he remarks. “This process of the erosion of law and order has been a gradual one and has been taking place for the last ten years,” he continues. He links the current crisis directly to the politicization of the police. It has become a thoroughly disorganized and disoriented force and there has been a break-down of the rule of law. He cites the examples of people violating laws with impunity and getting away with it without even being apprehended.

You ask Jameel Yousuf to be more specific. He speaks of cases when a killer is caught and he has to be released because of his connections in high places. Many MNAs and MPAs believe that once elected they have the power to throw their weight around and interfere with the working of the police. They demand a say in the recruitment, transfer and promotion of police officers. There have been times when the DIG has been changed within two months. The list of IG Sindh and DIGs Karachi he has compiled is flabbergasting. This city has had the distinction of having 21 DIGs since 1988. There have been 14 IG Police in Sindh in the same period. He identifies the major cause of the present policing crisis as gross political interference in its working and the recruitment and posting policy of its officers. With Karachi having emerged as a city where various mafias are vying for control, those in power are using the police as the instrument for establishing their own hold on this metropolis. With no accountability at all, the police no more work for the state. Their loyalty rests with those who give them their uniform. The force, therefore, lacks motivation and professional leadership.

The solution Jameel Yousuf has suggested and which has been accepted by the prime minister has not found wide favour either with the politicians or the bureaucracy – the main beneficiaries of the present breakdown in the command structure. This proposes a metropolitan police on the pattern of the force in Japan. It envisages a Public Safety Commission to which the police head would be accountable. This body alone would be empowered to remove the police chief.

Yousuf is confident that once the police head is freed from political interference he would be able to deliver. To begin with, the Public Safety Commission would ensure that the DIG is a professionally sound officer who can work independently without the fear of losing his job.

The snag which skeptics foresee is in the composition of the Commission itself. Will it be free of politically vested interests? “Why not?” Yousuf retorts. The membership he had originally proposed for the PSC for Karachi has a nominee of the Chief Minister (Governor in the absence of the C.M.) who will be chairman and would only have the casting vote, one member each to be nominated by the leader of the house and leader of the opposition, chief of the CPLC and five citizens from the profession to be nominated by the governor. In view of the province being under governor’s rule, it has now been decided that the commission will consist of six members nominated by the governor.

Yousuf feels that by making the commission an apolitical body, the government can free the police from the clutches of the politicians and the bureaucracy. That its members are nominees of the governor should not detract from its independence and integrity. “The CPLC members are nominated and in the last eight years 70 people have been nominated. Not one of them has been accused of any wrong-doing.” Yousuf says in support of his contention.

The commission will appoint the IG from a list of three names proposed by the federal government for three years. Once appointed, the police chief cannot be thrown out except by the Commission. In this way his services will not be linked to the pleasure of those in power. He will choose his own officers and will be accountable for the honesty and efficiency of his force. If he fails to deliver he will be packed off home by the commission.

Thus Yousuf hopes to be instrumental in setting up a police force which is democratically controlled, politically neutral, professionally efficient and responsive to the community’s needs. You can’t help being skeptical. Why can’t it be better trained even under its present set-up, you wonder. Why is the force so brutal? Why can’t the police be locally recruited? Jameel Yousuf takes a one-dimensional view: the chain of command has broken down on account of scores of officers being superseded. Recruitments have been made on the advice of politicians in power. You can’t set out to reform an institution piecemeal. You have to adopt an integrated approach. Once the police leadership is restructured it will be more professional. It could also address the issue of training and local recruitment.

How would the problem of corruption be handled? On a higher level the working and finances of the police will be monitored by the internal and audit wing. Corruption in the ranks is directly linked to the low emoluments of a policeman, who is endowed with excessive powers, which he can abuse to better his economic status. Yousuf wants the salaries of the police to be increased. His plan proposes a Rs.26 million per annum increase in salary for a force of 36,000 + men (down from the present 37,000+). The uniforms’ budget will jump up from Rs. Two million to Rs.62 million.

On paper the plan appears too perfect to be true. After all, men with the same outfit will continue to man the force. You are still pondering the salient features of the Japanese model as this plan is described, when the Colombian police experts arrive quite suddenly in the city. Yousuf invites journalists and NGOs to meet them. From them you learn that the scenario in Colombia was worse than that of Karachi. The police and government institutions had collapsed and the homicides rates were fantastically higher. But the Colombians have managed to rebuild their services and the situation has improved considerably.

There is no magic formula, Dr. Dario Bararena, the coordinator of the High Commission for Peace of the Presidency, warns. He stresses the need for a holistic approach. Simply attempting to strengthen the police in isolation will not do. The government will have to attend to the social and economic needs of the marginalized sections of society as well eliminate crime. You have to eliminate crime. You have to enlist the participation of all citizens in the process of institution building. The process of political concination must be initiated and the value of honesty and the dignity of labour must be revived.

Can Karachi do that? This involves a rebuilding process and according to Dr. Bararena you have to make a beginning somewhere. Jameel Yousuf wants to make a beginning by getting the government to ditch the archaic police law of 1861, which the British introduced to  strengthen their own authority and enhance their governance. The metropolitan system of policing has been tried in India. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and there it has worked fairly well. Will it work here? All the political parties have rejected the scheme. Considering their vested interest in controlling the police and the unholy mess they have made of law and order by their political interference in the working of the law enforcement agency, one feels that perhaps the new system can really clip their wings. It might help make the force more professional. Everyone now agrees that matters have reached such a sorry state that something has to be done. Why should not Jameel Yousuf’s proposals be given a try?

Moreover, he has made the CPLC a success story is that it has proved the citizens a modest channel of redress against the excesses of the police. It enjoys the confidence of the people who donate generously to sustain it. What better proof is there of the public’s faith in CPLC and Jameel Yousuf than the break-up of the Committee’s funding. Of its annual budget of Rs. 60 lakhs, the government provides the princely sum of Rs.five lakhs. The rest comes from public donations.

Source: Dawn, 6 December 1998