It is with feelings of deep concern, discontentment and sorrow that I, being a senior and serving police officer, write this article, about the force that I was so proud to be a part of and served for so many years. The death of an O.I.C. in the recent Hanwella mob melee which could have [...]

Sunday Times 2

Top brass responsible for police apathy


It is with feelings of deep concern, discontentment and sorrow that I, being a senior and serving police officer, write this article, about the force that I was so proud to be a part of and served for so many years.

The death of an O.I.C. in the recent Hanwella mob melee which could have been easily prevented, if basic policing concepts and preventive measures had been taken, and proper orders and supervision by the police top brass, mainly the IGP, had been undertaken. The police would not only have been able to successfully maintain law and order, but would not have made an unnecessary martyr of a brave police officer. This has become a hot topic within police circles, past and present.

The public unrest at Hanwella should never have been allowed to spiral out of control in the manner that it did. No one had a handle on the situation, for over a day and a half. Basic negotiation skills and handling of public unrest along with basic policing methodology were absent. Officers from outstations and all over Colombo were brought in, causing confusion and lack of command. They were unfamiliar with the area and the ground situation.

The practice of saturating police officers and men needlessly into public order situations as well as normal police commitments, and the placing of senior officers into tasks and responsibilities that should be entrusted to junior officers, have become a specialty of the current top brass, causing a degradation of the ranks, and frustration amongst senior officers, along with a drop in discipline. In similar fashion, we saw a lack of command and control in another colossal failure in the “Rathupaswela” issue in Gampaha.

Police officers on duty in Hanwella after an OIC was killed in a public order incident that could have been averted

Other public order situations that have been mismanaged to expose the total incompetence and impotency of the police include attacks on the Hikkaduwa church and other places of worship, most in broad daylight – attacks that have tarnished the image of our country. In addition to these, we see that several police stations have been attacked by unruly mobs, during public protests, injuring officers and destroying state property in the process. A DIG, Vass Gunawardena, was arrested in connection with a contract killing. Close on the heels of this, two OICs were arrested: One allegedly possessed heroin, and the other allegedly accepted a bribe from a suspect to cover up a murder.

Gross and needless over deployment of officers and men for almost all functions and duties handled by the police has resulted in senior and junior officers being unable to attend to their responsibilities, causing a pile up in their work loads. Hence, the services provided to the public, crime prevention and investigations are compromised or neglected. In addition, it results in a waste of public funds and frustration amongst the public and the police.

Many senior officers shake their heads in disgust at redundant duty commitments, when, for example, they are deployed on outstation duties for weeks, at the dayata kirula exhibition, to perform tasks that could be handled by officers far junior to them. Another redundant duty as well as a white elephant introduced by the incumbent IGP, is the help desk. This desk that operates for sixteen hours a day receives less than ten calls during that time. None of these calls is a bona-fide query. Many of these calls are of a 119 nature. When the people try to call 119 and find the lines are engaged, they call the help desk. However, this desk is incapable of performing such duties of a 119 nature. The remainders of calls are on concluded cases of petty complaints from various police stations.

In any petty complaint there is a complainant and a respondent. After the police conclude their inquiry, the complaint is either proved or disproved, and the parties are accordingly advised, or action deemed necessary is taken by the police. The help desk has now been transformed by certain individuals trying to get a second hearing, or to use influence on such concluded cases. This is not only counterproductive but goes against the party whose case was heard on natural justice after facing the inquiry based on evidence.
To add further insult, the officers manning the phones are senior inspectors or chief inspectors who in many instances worked as OICs or HQIs of police stations and were moved out on political or disciplinary grounds. These officers perform a telephone operator’s duty — a duty should be performed by police constables.

Another serious issue plaguing police efficiency and effectiveness, I am told, is the excessive number of conferences at police headquarters, chaired by the IGP or his deputy, Senior DIG (Admin). Minor issues or instructions that can be handled by a simple memo are dealt with conferences, review conferences, and follow up conferences. These conferences will take between two and a half and five hours, with precisou time being consumed in mostly idle banter, impractical and usually conflicting instructions and orders and frustration.

Most senior officers and OICs have to endure several of these conferences in a week. So it is no surprise that they have no time to supervise and instruct their men, or to plan out their daily duties or operations.

Taking all this into consideration, one can clearly see the reason for violent crime and armed robbery being on the rise, as well as the public having little or no faith in the ability of the police to protect them, or to expediently inquire or investigate into complaints of crime and bring the offenders to book.

Even when it comes to traffic control, CCTV or not, during rush hour traffic, the law of the jungle, where only the fittest survive, is the order of the day. Respect for traffic rules is a thing of the past. Certain people in luxury jeeps or defenders, fix fancy, blinking light sets to the front windscreen of their vehicles, to give the impression of a VVIP vehicle, to intimidate the public and police, to drive on the wrong side of the road,. They are a law unto themselves, being an utter nuisance and danger to those who drive respecting road rules. The simple fact behind this arrogance is that these individuals think they can get away with whatever they do, given the incompetence of the police. A perfect example of those with the ability to take the law into their own hands, going ahead and doing just that, is the recent incident of a magistrate, who went on the wrong side of the road, with a police driver, who he is not empowered to have then. He had an altercation with a traffic sergeant on duty, and got his retribution by getting that officer remanded on trumped up charges, while the police top brass looked the other way.

Another key factor of mismanagement that I see for this dismal abyss the police has fallen into is that many young and capable officers are being kept for many years behind desks. Good, efficient and effective field officers are robbed of the ability to serve the public. With a clear drop in the public’s trust or respect in the police, we see a rise in police officers being obstructed in their lawful duties as well. More than 21 such cases in the last few months have been recorded. Never before has anything like this been seen. Obstructions of police officers in their lawful duties so frequently can only mean the breakdown of law and order, a rise of a thug culture or mentality, and a shattering of disciplined society. The only action taken by the IGP was to instruct all officers on field duty to carry side arms. Does this solve the situation? The local police have lost its grip on the area.

Not identifying or dealing with law breakers and hooligans, the lack of a thorough knowledge of the area they serve in, and of the people they serve, and the lack of supervision, command and control by station OICs and their superiors due to unnecessary and unwarranted special duty commitments, conferences and other excessively redundant duties prevent hands on supervision. This impacts the local police to the extent where they are unable to attend to problems at its inception. Rather they get to the problem only when it starts spiralling out of control.

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