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28th February 1999

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'No gestapos in police'

By Frederica Jansz

The dearth of manpower in the Police Force has been the result of a large number being deployed in operational areas in the north and east, says Police Chief Lucky Kodituw-akku. This shortage has led to many problems he told The Sunday Times.

In the backdrop of many desertions, arms and ammunition became freely available in the market. Hence, the crime rate has also increased, he said.

Police Chief Lucky KodituwakkuBenjamin Lakdasa Victor De Silva Kodituwakku, for the second time since he assumed office as the IGP, gave an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times and dealt with all the questions posed to him. Appearing suave and relaxed in his wood panelled office at Police Headquarters, he would only smile at some of those questions he found touchy. His interview came at a time when the police department is in the public spotlight not only because of the flawed north western provincial elections but also for a number of other reasons.

Popularly known as Lucky Kodituwakku, the present IGP is the 25th in line of succession and assumed office on the 9th of January this year. Having initially joined the police force on the 1st of November 1966, as a probationary Assistant Superintendent of Police, he was appointed as ASP for Nugegoda one year later. He has served in the eastern, central and north western provinces during his career including as Assistant Director for the police training school at Kalutara in 1971.

Mr. Kodituwakku was promoted as Deputy Inspector General of Police in 1987 soon after which, he resigned from the police service and re-entered again only in 1994 as Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police.

Below, Mr. Kodituwakku deals with the questions put to him setting out detailed answers where possible.

Q:The Police have come in for strong criticism in the aftermath of the Wayamba elections-especially their passiveness in the face of blatant thuggery and violence.What is the use of such a police force.?

A:Why do you only blame the police? The Police is the primary law enforcement agency. However, in a situation like this, where the areas are large, it is not possible for the police to keep a policeman behind every bush. The members of the public and politicians should all take note of this.

Q: Have you as head of the police force investigated why over 12,000 police officers stood by and watched while over 1600 reported incidents of violence took place at Wayamba?

A: Yes. However, some of them did take action. You see, the newspapers, sometimes blatantly misinterpret.They give wrong information.I am not for a moment trying to cover up that we did fail. What I am trying to say is, we placed policemen at every polling booth, at vantage points and we also had mobile teams.Every mobile team coverd about four to five polling booths. The problem is when powerful characters go about with about 200 people, what are the police to do?

Q: Who are these powerful characters?

A: Well, they are the catchers of certain politicians. They go about in large numbers.....

Q: So, are you saying that the police were intimidated by politicians at the recent elections?

A: Sometimes there have been cases of intimidation. But, I must say in those cases they acted correctly.

Q: Who? The police?

A: Yes. In some incidents when they were intimidated they almost opened fire, and in some they opened fire.What I am trying to tell you is, it is not possible to do all what you would expect us to do in difficult situations like these. Members of the public and political parties have to also take the responsiblity.The higher ups of any political party seek peaceful means, but sometimes, certain people get out of control. If everyone had played their respective parts, there would have been no reason for even the police to come out.

Q:You said the area that had to be covered in Wayamba was immense.Did you face a lack of manpower to counter the violence at Wayamba?

A: I don't think it was a lack of manpower. I pushed in about 5400 officers and men in addition to the 2500 men which Wayamba had. But if we had more vehicles, (I gave as many as possible) things would have been better.I am not trying to blame anyone just because everyone is blaming us. As usual when anything goes wrong it is the police that is made out to be the scapegoat. That is how society works. Sometimes, the law enforcement authority cannot be one hundred percent effective as one would expect.

Q: Do you think that the police at Wayamba were even fifty percent effective?

A: If there had been no law enforcement authority at all it would have been a full scale war.

Q: You mentioned if everyone had played their parts at the recent elections there would have been no violence. So, who did not play their part at Wayamba? Was it the police or the politicians?

A: Well, the police come out only if there is trouble.

Q: But there was trouble....

A: Yes, that's right. But, who created the trouble?

Q: Who did? You tell me.

A:I am asking you. You are the people who always say there is trouble. So, I am asking you the question- who created the trouble?

Q: That is not for me to say.As the police chief, I'm asking you who was guilty for around 1600 incidents of violence at Wayamba? This is not something that only the newspapers are saying. These are figures that have been documented even by independent polls monitors.

A: Correct, correct. Even we have our statistics. So there have been quite a lot of incidents of violence.

Q: But, who would you attribute these incidents to?

A: Some of the incidents I would attribute to thugs who went around with certain people canvassing for votes and preventing people from coming to vote.

Q: Who organised these thugs?

A: Well, it has to be definitely....... I mean you cannot say that you don't know......

Q:No I don't know. I am asking you as the police chief who organised these thugs?

A: You would have visited these areas so you also should know.Some one would have organised these thugs.It must have been the interested parties

Q:Who would that be?

A:Who are the interested parties in an election?The answer should be apparent to anybody.

Q: The Elections Commissioner has rapped your knuckles....

A: So, the papers say. I don't know about it.

Q: Are you denying that the Elections Commissioner wrote to you soon after the Wayamba polls?

A:Well, the papers said so. He did write to me about the violence that occurred.

Q:President Kumaratunga had also written to you three weeks after the polling date of the Wayamba elections, (that too after the newspapers highlighted it) to arrest the culprits involved in the stripping of a 17-year-old girl and a 53-year-old mother on a public road. What action have you taken in this regard?

A: That's right. I had given orders to the DIG North Western range that all inquiries should be completed without delay, in the wake of which, the President's letter also came. We set up a special team as the President had been insistent about it. We have since arrested two culprits. The case has not yet been called. But I think they have been remanded.

Q:Nobody wants to go to a police station anymore and the police don't come out of their stations to do normal policing. There is a feeling that your writ as the IGP does not go down to the lower levels.

The old policing systems have collapsed and even the junior level officers have demonstrated they are more powerful than you are. How do you intend combating this?

A: These are mostly surmises which have been fabricated. Sometimes the media exaggerate things.At times I see newspapers quoting me saying I have said this and that whereas I hadn't spoken to anyone.

Q:That does not answer the question. Is it not true that your writ as the IGP is being undermined by lower level officers?

A: I don't think that is correct at all. It is a must that different people have different views.

Q: But your own senior DIG for Crimes, Mr. Kottakadeniya, told us that policing systems have indeed collapsed, and that crime has escalated due to poor policing. It is also widely believed that the police are working in collusion with criminals.

A:What is being projected is just one man's view. If you take ten police officers, and question them they will have five different views.But my view is also different.

Q: But Mr.Kottakadeniya is in charge of crime?

A:That's right and that's precisely why his view would be different from others. He is worried about that particular area while another would look at in a general manner.

Q: So, in general would you say there are police officers working together with criminal elements?

A: Some time back there were about one or two who have done so. But, we took action against them.What happened was with the priority of sending men to the north, our police stations had to suffer a lot. Because most men had to be sent to the north and the east. With the result what happened was that at the police stations, there was a dearth of personnel. Everyone felt it. If this had been nipped in the bud, it would not have taken bigger proportions.

Q: What are the causes for the rise in crime?

A:With the number of desertions increasing, arms and ammunition became freely available in the market.With it the crime rate also increased and we did not have enough men to curb this because most have been posted in the North and East.What I'm trying to do with every new batch that enters the police dept. is to fill in those stations from where men have have been taken out.I cannot accomplish this in a couple of months. It will take about two or three years.People are not joining the police force today, because it is a thankless job.

I admit crimes are committed but we do solve them. In the Hokandara case we caught all the suspects within a matter of four hours.

Q: But the lawlessness and violence continued at Hokandara inspite of that.

A: Yes, that's right.Why? It is because society has changed.

Q: But why haven't the police at Hokandara been able to enforce the law?

A: It's not just the police alone.It can be traced even to the educational system

Q: But why did the people of Hokandara see it fit to take the law into their own hands and continue the violence?

A:That you must ask a psychologist.Why have people turned out to be like this?

Q:But what has the Athurugiriya police station for example, done to stop these acts of violence?

A:You know what happened.All the suspects were arrested in a matter of four hours.

Q: But the lawlessness still continues

A: That was against the perpetrators.

Q: But the law is still being broken or rather the people took the law into their own hands. Is this because they had no confidence in the police?

A: No. Not at all. First we will have to do a psychological study to see why men act this way.The media could be of assistance.Compared to about 40 years ago,there is a vast change in society.Those days we would be frightened at the mere sight of a policeman. But today?

If we saw a body on the road we wouldn't sight the place. Things that one wouldn't have dreamt of those days are happening freely today. This is why I said we cannot have a policeman behind every bush. I know the police are meant to be law enforcement officers.He is always in the public eye and is therefore criticised.

Q:But this is just my point. You admit the police are law enforcement officers.But what did the police do for example in Hokandara,when the people took the law into their hands?

A:There were some news reports that some six houses were burnt.This was not the case. It was three. And that too, only partly burnt. That is probably because of a private grudge.These acts were not done by the whole village. One man can set fire to four of five houses.

Q:So the police cannot prevent even one man?

A:I am surprised that you are asking such a question because a person with a little bit of intelligence should know how the police system works. We do our best in the prevention and detection of crime. But we cannot be present everywhere all the time.What is wrong is you expect us to be omnipotent.

Q:You have earlier mentioned that an independent police commission was not necessary.Do you still think so?

A: I have not probed into that matter so far. I have to give it more thought before I answer.

Q:But in view of what is happening now, don't you think an independent police commission, devoid of political interference is necessary?

A: I cannot give my opinion since I have not studied the matter properly.

Q:It is common knowledge that there is a Gestapo style secret service in the police.Senior police officials are in fact speaking about it. There are even claims that appointments and transfers and the virtual running of the police service is being carried out by them and that you are a prisoner in their hands.

A: No, that is absolutely untrue.There are some disgruntled elements in the force who want the public to believe that there is a Gestapo style service in operation.

Q:But how do you explain the recent incident at the town hall, where Mayor Karu Jayasuriya said police officers removed buntings and banners put by the UNP who were staging a protest against the death of democracy? This was after you had given an assurance that no such order had been given to the police.

A:This is a case of misreporting.The Mayor told me that people were cutting down flags. and that he suspected some policemen were also involved.I infomed the DIG Colombo to see that this type of thing was stopped, and to deal with whoever was guilty. I don't know who cut those flags todate.

Q:How strong are the links between politicians, police and the underworld?

A:I don't know about the links between politicians and the underworld. But, where the police are concerned we have done everything to see that those involved are brought to book.

We have a list of those who had been arrested.President Kumaratunga called us for about three meetings and we all did our best to see that these people were brought before the law. We have done our part, now it is upto the law.

Q: Is it true that some members of the underworld who surrendered at Police Headquarters, have been released after the intervention of political heavyweights?

A: No there was no intervention. Even if someone intervenes we don't give in.

Q: So, there is no political interference here at Police Headquarters?

A:With regard to the underworld, No, not at all. In fact, the President is encouraging us to get rid of these elements in society.

Q:But hasn't the crime rate risen in the last six months?

A:In some places yes. But is others it has come down.

Q: What are the areas it has gone down in?

A: I'm sorry but I don't have the statistics now. You can inquire from the Crimes Division. In fact, over the last six months we have rounded up almost ninety percent of the underworld kingpins.

Q:Senior police officers have told us that some police officials, like ASP Nihal Karunaratne, Head of the Presidential Security, is apparently giving you 'instructions'.Is this true?

A: He never contacted me. This is not true.

Q:So, you are not in contact with him?

A: If I had contacted him it would have been to give him some orders.

Q:Do, you take orders from Mr. Nihal Karunaratne?

A: (incredulous) Are you off your nut?

Q:I am asking you to set the record straight...

A: And I 'm asking you, are you off your nut? Unless a person is off his or her nut one wouldn't ask such a question. His rank is quite different from mine. He is an ASP and I am the IGP.

Q: Exactly my point

A: Many people don't like Nihal Karunaratne because he is doing a good job there at the PSD. He did a good job when there was a threat to the President. He probably would have had to give orders to some. Therefore he is probably not liked by many. He is a real gentleman. He would never dare to think of giving orders to me, and on my part I would never tolerate such a thing.

Q: Senior police officers have also told us that you had issued orders not to raid Kassippu dens in the Wayamba province just before the elections. Is this true?

A: No, there was nothing like that

Q: Your voice was not heard during the transfer of police officers soon after the Wayamba elections. Why was this? Don't you have any say as the IGP?

A:I know there were some transfers of police officers, but that was with the appointment of some DIGs. There were some DIGs appointed and as a result certain places had to be given to them. So, when six transfers are done there are at least 35 displacements. It's a chain reaction.

Q: So, are you saying that the transfers were a perfectly normal procedure?

A: Yes, they were done purely for administrative reasons.

Q: It is also said that nobody can contact you. Not only the media but even those officers working closely with you. Why?

A: Of course my officers can contact me. The media also can. Many politicians and members of the public have been contacting me. In a public office there are certain levels at which people must know how to contact. If I were to answer every telephone call, then I will not be able to see to the affairs of the department. My job has alot to do with policy making, and it is time consuming to go into matters and grievances.

Q:President Kumaratunge this year called for an action plan to combat crime. What suggestions have you made?

A: As I told you, we have had about three conferences with the President about this and we are going all out in this respect.

Q:Why doesn't the unit for Crime at Police Headquarters have no police team to send out when area police fail? For example the Hokandara massacre, the area police seem to have lost complete control of the situation. Why not have a striking unit when divisional branches fail?

A: At important police stations we do have striking forces. You must not confuse the functional duties with operational duties. The crime office which you speak of here, studies the pattern of crime in areas and then issue necessary instructions. They must not get into the operational scene. Those are done by those stations in the area.

Q: But what happens when these police stations fail?

A: If they fail, then officers must be taken from the other range. That is what we do. There is also a central vice squad whose assistance is also sought. But, operations must not be confused with functional duties. Because then both fail.

Q: In view of all what you have just said, that there are criminal elements working with the police force, and that area divisions may have failed - How would you in this present scenario, as police chief, clean up the police force?

A: First we have to make a study, why we have failed if we have failed and why. It could be lack of planning, lack of strategy, lack of motivation, and lack of co-ordination. Even now high ranking officers are going into these matters. We found that as a law enforcement authority we did not have a legal division. So, we created that so that there will be better co-ordination with other state organisations.

Q: Could you give a guarantee that the forthcoming elections in April will be violence free?

A: Well, we are doing everything possible to ensure that it will be so.But we also want the public to co-operate with us to see that it will be a violence free election.

Q:But what can the public do in the face of thuggery? They are not armed.

A:Who are the thugs? They are also members of the public aren't they? They are also voters. That is why I said public co-operation is necessary. You see, the thugs cannot be demarcated from the public.

Q: The bottom line is that police failed to enforce the law at the Wayamba elections. Are they capable of doing so at the next elections?

A: We will do our best. But there is a lot of co-operation needed from the public and the political parties concerned.

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