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Sri Lanka: Real Challenges of

Civilian Policing
Once you demoralise and dismantle the morality of the department, how can you

expect a disciplinary service based on moral authority?

(November 4, 2015, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) As


his superior officer is on an official visit to Uganda, acting Inspector General of Police,
Pujitha Jayasundara, has been thrust into the limelight. His appearance before the
National Police Commission, a long term dismantled commission, pushed the refresh
button under the new government, to defend his department in an engagement of
establishing the civil obedience. He was summoned by the commission for the hearing
on the recent attacks on the protest organised by the students from Inter Student
Collective for the Protection of Higher National Diploma in Accountancy (HNDA).
It was yet another attack against the students who were agitating for their minimal
rights by the police. But this time the attacks led to wide discriminations against the
police. The police tried hard to justify their reactions while the facts of the actual
situation went viral.

Photo by Roshan Chathuranmga

However, the justification by the police for their use of force mainly focuses on civil
disobedience, and establishing the public peace. A short statement in Sinhala
language published by the police noted that, protesters blocked the main road and

forcefully attempted to enter the ministrys premises, so police had to disband the
protest. However, nothing is farther than the truth. The brutal attacks against the
students were recorded and went viral in the media.
In this circumstances, few options are available for the police. The first and foremost
would be a public apology leading a genuine discussion with those who were affected.
The second and most commonly used option is that launching an investigation into
the case, so then police can kill two birds with one stone. They can then, with the help
of relevant authority, dismiss the lowest ranking officers appearing in the videos. Thus,
just will have been seen to be done and they will be able, once again, to cover-up the
real issue.
At the same time there was another peaceful protest by the villagers in Hakmana, a
village in the southern part of Sri Lanka, against the Officer in Charge of the police
station in the area who allegedly tortured a youth in order to force a confession out of
him for a crime in which he took no part.
Arbitrary arrests on fabricated charges, using torture for force confession, police
negligence, ignoring the official procedures, killing suspects on the way to show the
weapons he has hidden, were famous strategies followed by the police to tame the
suspects. How can the handcuffed man throw a hand grenade at the police while
showing the hidden weapons? A lengthy account can be compiled against the police
with known facts of the public. Also, a long report can be produced with the list of
victims of police brutality. All the narrations are nothing but indications of a failed
system.
We believe, the crisis of policing system is much deeper than people think. There is
lack of consolidated discussion to improve the police department rather than blaming
and shaming by other parties and dismissing or punishing the lowest ranking officer
who has to struggle for his daily wages.
We suggest this is the time to starts a genuine discussion on re-engineering the police
department, as the country is in a political transformation. The outcome of such
discussion must be adopted on the ground to reaffirm the respect and dignity of the
police officer.
The real issue is not the police officer who is dealing with the ordinary person and
taking bribes, or the traffic officer who bribed the tea money, or the officer engaging in
hit and run duty when it comes to the public protest. But the system which turned them
into corrupted torturers in the first place. What makes them engage in something
which they clearly know to be unjust? It is time, not only to examine the crisis
prevailing within but also take responsibility to cure the deepest wounds of the poor
policing system in the country.
Like other most of governmental entities, the police department was also a baby of the
colonial womb, in which the credit should first go the Dutch who controlled certain
areas of maritime and Jaffna peninsula of the Island, and then to the British. Later it
was Great British who shaped this institute into the civilian policing. According to the

written history of police, it was in 1805 police functions came to be clearly defined.
(Quoted: www.police.lk accessed on November 4th, 2015).
Since then, we have increased not only the number of stations but also number of
police officers. G. W. R. Campbell, countrys first Chief Superintendent of Police, who
earned credit for shaping the Police Force into an efficient organisation and giving it a
distinct identity ( Quoted- Ibid). Later the Police Force was developed by Thomas
Oswin, Lokubanda Dunuwila and Sir Richard Aluvihare, the first Sri Lankan to hold the
office. In the present, there are 43 Territorial Divisions, 67 Functional Divisions, and
432 Police Stations, with strength of more than 84,000. (Quoted: Ibid)
It was the same time, Great Britain developed the policing system under the
leadership of Sir Robert Peel (Home Secretary of England), who is credited for
establishing the widely discussed London Metropolitan Police in September 1929.
Some learnt the principles introduced by Sir Robert Peel, who is often referred to as
the father of modern policing, as he played an integral role in the creation of this
department, as well as several basic principles that would later guide the formation
( quoted: History of Police) policing in other jurisdictions, and improved the institution.
While others learned policing skills but used them for their own advantage. No one has
to think twice, when it comes to the policing in Sri Lanka.
By producing 33 IGPs of its entire history and having close to hundred thousand
serving officers, the assessment on the Police Department one could have is that, it
has lost the public trust and earned a bad reputation. But that does not meant the
department have no human resources and inner commitments to change the
reputation, and achieve the goal mentioned in the mission and vision. For that they
dont have to be bobbies or peelers, but to find a way to take collective action within
the department.
The problem is not the officer who has not learnt well on how to act professionally. In
fact almost all officers were well aware about the unjust that anyone engage. But in
reality, professionalism has to keep a side when the politically motivated order issued
by the top. If the ordinary officer refused and questioned the ethics of the profession,
he has to get ready for harsh punishments or transfer to the remote areas. The culture
of impunity and the culture of ignorance on ethics of profession were systematically
developed within the department in last few decades on its way to greater
politicisation.
Once you demoralise and dismantle the morality of the department, how can you
expect a disciplinary service based on moral authority?
Policing, like other professions, is learnt by experience. If the senior officer is corrupt
and abuses his power, but remaining in the service with credits and promotions, how
can the junior to be an honest man in duty? If the senior uses his authority to arbitrarily
punish those who refused to follow unjust orders, how can the junior officer remain in
the service? If the senior is not accountable before the independent commission, how
can the junior stand for his professional dignity?

The attack on the students is indeed another event of police brutality. But to stop such
primitive motivation of the police, the department itself need to diagnose and heal their
own putrid wounds.
Who will take the steps forward to re-engineer the police department?
Who will be the beneficiary of having hora police, than the genuine police service?
It is time for action rather than talk on so called police reforms. It is the challenge we
must overcome sooner than later if we are honestly concerned on the concept of good
governance. Talking on good governance without genuine policing is nothing but a
farce.
It is time to pick the person who is capable of course correction, letting him to do his
duty respectfully and independently, then the policing will help the ordinary citizen and
the country in general.
Posted by Thavam