This book is a first-rate chronicle from two perspectives. On one level, it includes excellent story-telling and is plainly interesting to read as a sort of career memoir. In an equally important context the author provides a great deal of valuable insights into police reform and the entire extent of policing and national intelligence in its varied forms.
Merril Gunaratne, a former Senior Inspector General of Police, has a reputation for being a tough crime investigator and expert in the field of security, intelligence and counter terrorism. More, he is specially credited for his unrivalled proficiency in the craft of administering the entire gamut of law enforcement.
He was specially selected during emergencies by those at the highest levels of governance to take charge when the crises called for a firm hand and a cool head. And he did diffuse several volatile situations that threatened to breach the peace with admirable panache.
The book is indeed an stirring portrayal of a virtuoso in his element, inspiring his troops by example. But the reader will perceive that the story of the man's talents goes beyond his courage and brilliance.
There is a chapter-by-chapter accounting of abuse, misuse and incompetent leadership in both policing and the administration.
He adds to the montage of his canvas the dismal leaderships that are unwilling to look for innovative answers, and successfully innovative people, in the aftermath of crisis. He makes it quite clear why that crisis might have arisen and avoided in the first place.
With a casual style he embraces the reader's dizzying upward entry into the dark labyrinth of national intelligence where he set about implementing many of the initiatives he writes about.
There is the disturbing revelation that senior intelligence officials were privately fuming in instances of conflict between professional and political points of view. The truth is exposed where the intelligence services chiefs were treated dreadfully by political figures intent on manipulating intelligence and meddling in affairs that few, if any of them, really understood. In doing so they overruled the concerns of the intelligence advisers who were often excluded from participating at high-level security discussions.
During his time in the force he conjured up and oversaw fundamental changes to the department’s working practices, designed to modernise the force in line with new thinking for a broader look at the whole culture of policing.
Yet, working in law enforcement brings its own set of challenges. One of the greatest gauntlets to run for anyone in such a demanding profession is to stand up for what is right even if it may not be the popular thing to do. That is because it can pose an enormous risk in stifling the advancement of one’s career.
To Merril’s eternal credit he has been among a handful of officers who has been unafraid to ruffle feathers both inside and outside the force. True, there are others in the police who are true professionals. But very few seem true leaders.
As a Senior DIG of Police he administered all the territorial Ranges of Deputy Inspectors General in the country at one time. It is an open secret that he was tipped as the logical and ideal frontrunner for the post of Inspector General. But he was denied that deserving plume. Although he had been shafted for his independent views the author does not resort to ranting or rancour. He simply tells it as it is with splendid equanimity. However, the lessons learned from his narrative will help new police officers coming on the job to realize that law enforcement is a different beast from what they imagined.
Even in retirement he recognises the need to continue with the reforms that will bring the department into the 21st century and the latest advances in law enforcement. Still he has won the applause of both his colleagues among the rank and file as a celebrated cop's cop, a hero's hero. Everyone realizes that heroes are the people who do what has to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences. Along with the past ‘giants’ of the beat, who he refers to in his commentary, his legend has become embedded in police lore.
The book is a groundbreaker, eye-opener, page-turner and utterly riveting. Merril’s first-hand account of police culture, politicisation and necessary reforms makes for excellent reading. It is a must read for all police and public administration courses that tackle the subject of security and crime prevention.
National leaders should take inspiration from this timely message and take inspiration from his mostly progressive mission. ‘Cop in the Crossfire’ is available at all leading bookstores.