The Police Department, which had a high reputation of honest and dedicated officers maintaining law and order, has now become a department of ridicule, not wholly because of their misdeeds but because of their servile attitude in pleasing the political masters. The ridicule and the contempt which the people have for the Police are reflected [...]


Community police or political police?


The Police Department, which had a high reputation of honest and dedicated officers maintaining law and order, has now become a department of ridicule, not wholly because of their misdeeds but because of their servile attitude in pleasing the political masters.
The ridicule and the contempt which the people have for the Police are reflected through the mass media. The commission of diabolical crimes by officers in uniform and the corruption prevailing amongst officers — incidentally the Police Department has been identified as the most corrupt department in Sri Lanka — makes one wonder whether the Police Department is there to maintain law and order, enforce the Rule of Law and serve the community, or they are simply servants of Political masters.

Establishment of a Police Force and duties of Police Officers

An Ordinance to provide for the establishment and regulation of a Police Force in Ceylon was passed under the short title Police Ordinance in 1865, and was last revised in 1960.

Section 56 of this Ordinance under the sub-title “Duties and Liabilities of Police Officers”, clearly spells out the duties of a Police Officer.

It says:

It shall be his duty -

  • to use his best endeavours and ability to prevent all crimes, offences and public nuisances;
  • to preserve the peace;
  • to apprehend disorderly and suspicious characters;
  • to detect and bring offenders to justice;
  • to collect and communicate intelligence affecting the public peace; and
  • promptly to obey and execute all orders and warrants lawfully issued and directed to him by any competent authority.

Can any one of us honestly endorse that the members of the Police Department carry out any one of the duties they are bound by law to perform. Police officers are capable and efficient to execute the above duties if there is no interference from political masters. There are excellent crime investigators, honest police officers whose hands are tied when it comes to performing their duties according to their conscience and the law. During the past several years of the well publicised crimes committed, the investigating Police teams have solved most of the crimes, arrested the perpetrators, and brought them before courts. Most of the criminal acts committed by politicians of the ruling parties have not been solved. The accused are not arrested, they are conveniently allowed to appear before courts in spite of more than one team of officers having been detailed to solve the crime and arrest the culprits. Even serious offences of crimes have been referred to the conciliation boards where politicians or their offspring were involved.

In several cases where police officers turned out to be underworld characters committing dastardly crimes of murder, day light robberies extortions etc, the members of the same department had successfully solved the crimes arresting their colleagues and producing them before court. The recent sensational cases where police officers were masterminds include the daylight robbery opposite Sampath Bank at Slave Island when a money changer was returning from the bank and the contract killing of a businessman by a team of officers led by a Deputy Inspector General.

Go ahead goon, political police won’t stop your criminal activities. (File pic)

Whereas several cases committed by politicians of the ruling party are unsolved, the suspects though known, are left to roam about freely. Few of the cases involving the politicians are the rape of teenage girl by the Pradeshiya Sabha chairman, the assault on the son of a Deputy Inspector General and obstruction to Police Officers by the son of a Minister in Trincomalee and of course the murder of a British tourist in Tangalle where a local ruling party politician is under probe. Even the British government has taken this matter up. Why are we allowing a foreign country to question us on an investigation, which should have been concluded many months ago and the suspect brought before Courts? It is because of the reluctance of the Police to conclude the investigation and bring the perpetrator, a leading politician of the ruling party, before Courts.

After independence and several constitutional changes the Police Force was moulded to serve the people and the Police Force became a Police Service. Though some police officers had political connections, the politicians of yesteryear never controlled such officers and ordered them to do illegal acts or made use of them to achieve their political and personal agendas. With the constitutional changes of 1978 where the President was bestowed with unprecedented powers political interference began like a mustard seed in small measures. The canker has now grown up to be a large banyan tree. Under the present Constitution the appointment of an Inspector General of Police is solely the prerogative of the President. During the past 15 years or so from the analytical studies made, all the IGPs who were appointed were mere puppets of the government in power. The only IGP who dared to demonstrate his displeasure over the promotion of a senior Police Officer, whom he had not recommended for such promotion, was the late Cyril Herath, He tendered his retirement papers well before his retirement date, and left the service. Sadly all the other IGPs who adorned that high office thereafter had obeyed the political masters irrespective of whether such orders were legal or illegal, thereby allowing the Police Service to be politicised to the core, and allowing the Police Service to be a political arm of the ruling political party. There are volumes of details of how the Police Service acted and continue to act in not solving crimes, and not taking legal action against offenders who are from the government ruling party.

National Police Commission 

In 2001 all the political parties having realised the need for an independent Police Commission unanimously voted for the establishment of a National Police Commission. Subject to correction, this was a unique occasion where all political parties irrespective of their political ideologies and agendas unanimously voted to establish this Police Commission. Under the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, the National Police Commission was established and a well-respected lawyer, Ranjith Abeysuriya, was appointed its chairman. This National Police Commission implemented the provisions of the National Police Commission rules to the best of its ability and in every aspect acted independently without any political interference. The underlying purpose was to ensure independence, freeing the Police service from interference or undue influence and to instill respect for rule of law among all ranks of the Police service and to perform their duties impartially and fearlessly.

The Commission had reputed and honourable members from the judiciary, public sector and private sector and a learned and respected Buddhist monk as the members of the Commission. The Secretary was a former public servant of repute K.C. Logeswaran. The Commission functioned admirably well and the majority of the Police personnel were relieved at the manner in which the Commission conducted its affairs, as it did not allow political interference in respect of transfers, promotions etc. It is on record that at the general election held during the period the National Police Commission was functioning there was not a single incident of vote rigging, switching of ballot boxes or other irregularities by politicians or underworld characters. The Police Officers who were on duty were bold enough to resist any attempt made by the political goons, as they were confident that they will not be penalised for doing their duty so long as the Police Commission was functioning .When the Commission was gearing up well the politicians who voted for the National Police Commission realised that the Chairman of the Commission and its members were not yielding to their requests for transfers etc. They felt the Commission was depriving them of a privilege that they had long been enjoying.

Even some of the IGPs during that period, to please the politicians, recommended transfers of Police Officers who were known to be performing their duties efficiently and honestly, who were in charge of very important Divisions, under the guise of exigency of service or that their services were needed in some other sections of the Police Department. However, the Chairman and the members of the Commission saw through this ruse and denied the requests made by the IGPs on several occasions. The correct attitude of the National Police Commission irked the powers-that-be who could not dictate terms or pressurise the Commission. The most affected were the politicians who were in power and intentionally and willfully they allowed the Commission to die a natural death by either not extending the service of the Chairman and the Board for a further period or re-appointing the same National Police Commission for another terms.

There was a vacuum created purposefully from about November 2005 to about April 2006, a commission was appointed only by name to fool the public and the world but this commissioner had very little power. The important functions of the National Police Commission were removed and it became merely a recipient of complaints against the Police. During this period the serving Police Officers were disappointed and disgusted as the politicians had a field day in removing Police Officers whom they did not like, appointing Officers with questionable reputations to important positions in the Department, promoting Officers who did not deserve to be promoted and getting their ” Our Men” to do whatever they want. The maintenance of law and order and the rule of law collapsed completely due to this political interference.

There is a clamour to re-establish an independent National Police Commission, but it fell on the deaf ears of the powers that be. The provisions of the National Police Commission under the 17th Amendment require review and amendment in respect of the administrative controlling power of the National Police Commission, of the Police department, but the independence of the National Police Commission should not be diluted, but it should be strengthened. If such a National Police Commission with independent, reputed, honourable citizens of Sri Lanka is re-established, the entire members of the public will be a happier lot and the public can expect a “Community Police Service and not a Political Police Force”.


It is reliably learnt that the present IGP had voiced his opposition when the DIG who is under arrest for a contract killing was to be promoted to the present rank. Reliably it was learnt that in spite of the objection by the IGP for reasons of questionable reputation of the DIG, the objection was overruled by powerful personalities of the government and he was promoted. It is also learnt that this Officer was one of the many who carried out the orders of the politicians irrespective of whether such orders were legal or illegal. It is due to such “a god- fatherly safety net” that many Officers indulge in illegal activities worse than the underworld characters. The IGP should have the authority to select the best and honest Police Officers for any promotions to the higher rank, and his recommendations should not be overlooked, but must be given serious consideration by those who decide on promotions so that the rank they hold after the promotions does not devalue and degrade the higher rank they hold. This type of ignoring of the recommendations of the IGP can only bring frustration amongst senior Police Officers who have dedicated themselves to serve the department and the people in a manner expected of them as dictated by the law of the land.


With the appointment of the incumbent IGP, a majority of the Police Officers and a majority of the members of the public were happy that the government has appointed a deserving Police Officer. His conduct, mannerism, interaction with the public and his administration have been above the standard maintained by some of his predecessors. The government must give the IGP a free hand to control his deputies and others, maintain law and order, establish the rule of law, exercise disciplinary powers over all his men, without any interference, so that he can restore the reputation the Police Service once had, and the people can live without fear in a crime free land of ours.

Police Officers, especially the senior Police Officers must not take cover under the myth of “political interference”. Political interference is a double edged weapon. Most of the Police Officers, to cover up their inefficiency, corruption or to receive non deserving promotions and favours in the Police Department bow to the requests from politicians of all shapes and colours. Such behaviour increases political interference. It is high time the Police Officers, especially the senior officers, resolved to maintain law and order, established rule of law, serveed the public, shedding away any resemblance of political interference so that the Police Department can earn the reputation of a “community police and not a political police”.

(The writer is a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police)

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