The Need For Police Reforms in Pakistan
“I have no hope of getting justice in this crooked system. —Umar Daraz, Karachi, January 2016
How do you expect us to recover stolen items from hardened criminals? Do you think they will agree if we say, ‘Be nice to us and return what you stole?’ —Police officer, details withheld, Pakpattan, November 2014
My staff and I are expected to be on duty 24 hours a day. We are perpetually exhausted…. How can you expect people to work under such conditions and not crack? —Police officer, details withheld, Pakpattan, November 2014”
At around 1 am. PKT on 17 June 2014, the Punjab Police launched an anti-encroachment operation to remove barriers outside the offices of Minhaj-ul-Quran International and Qadri’s residence in the Model Town suburb in Lahore. The police reached the PAT headquarters in a large contingent and demanded the party workers remove the barricades which they claimed were illegal. The raid was untimely in contrast to the routine morning raids the police often conducts in similar cases.
The PAT workers insisted that the barricades were legal and that they had been set up four years ago to protect Qadri’s home and office when he issued a decree against the Taliban. Nevertheless, the police carried on with their operation to demolish the Jersey barriers with bulldozers prompting the PAT workers and activists to resist the police efforts by starting a protest against the police action. The violent clash that ensued between the Punjab Police and Pakistan Awami Tehreek lasted for more than 11 hours.
“Torture is used routinely by the police as a means of investigation”
Public surveys and reports of government accountability and redress institutions show that the police are one of the most widely feared, complained against, and least trusted government institutions in Pakistan, lacking a clear system of accountability and plagued by corruption at the highest levels. District-level police are often under the control of powerful politicians, wealthy landowners, and other influential members of society. There are numerous reported cases of police extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects, torture of detainees to obtain confessions, and harassment and extortion of individuals who seek to file criminal cases, especially against members of the security forces.
Research documents custodial torture, extrajudicial executions, and other serious human rights violations by the police in Pakistan. It details the difficulties that victims of crime and police abuse face in obtaining justice, including the refusal by police to register complaints (known as First Information Reports or FIRs), their demands for bribes, and biased investigations. The poor and other vulnerable or marginalized groups invariably face the greatest obstacles to obtaining justice in a system that is rigged against them. It also examines limitations, including financial and human resource constraints, which police say impact their ability to function properly, and looks at examples of some good police practices that can serve as possible models for the future.
Several police officers who spoke to Human Rights Watch openly admitted to the practice of false or faked “encounter killings,” in which police stage an armed exchange to kill an individual already in custody. Such killings may be carried out because of pressure from the higher command or local elites, or because the police are not able to gather enough evidence to ensure convictions. Police are rarely held accountable for these killings and families of victims are deterred from filing complaints against police out of fear of harassment or being accused of false charges.
Police have been scrutinized in recent years over their use of force. Within the last few days, the murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud on January 13, 2018, in Karachi, Sahiwal Killings on January 19, 2019, and the latest incident of Salahuddin Ayubi who was tortured to death have raised concerns over the use of force in Pakistan’s Police Force. Police in Pakistan have way too much power and it needs to change. We need police reform.
1. Police are given too much power.
With guns, tasers and stun guns, police in Pakistan have enough weapons to take down multiple people at once. Police wear specific outfits, aimed at maintaining easy access for civilians in trouble. When asked about the use of police uniforms, an anonymous person, who is trying to get into the police force, said, “Seeing a uniform definitely deters people from committing crimes but if a cop is in civilian clothes and someone commits a crime, they could possibly respond better since the criminal didn’t know there was a cop.” While cops need weapons to maintain safety and order, they will not use them correctly without proper training. In addition, the use of police uniforms is necessary, but not to the extent that they are worn today.
2. Police work too much.
Long work hours as a public servant (catching murderers, protecting children from pedophiles, etc.) can cause psychological disorders and morbidity. Rather than having police officers who already work an overly stressful job work well over the 40-hour workweek, police need to be given adequate time off and continuous training in their job field.
3. Police are put on a pedestal.
Because their job is to “protect and serve,” police are given the go-around in regards to various crimes. Human Rights Watch research has found that those from marginalized groups are particularly at risk of police abuse. In another instance, a police officer had admitted to lying countless times and locking up innocent people was finally put away for his crimes – but for only a short 16 months. If police are given special treatment, they will continue to break the law knowing that the repercussions of their actions are smaller than regular citizens.
“Our police departments are a nationwide problem, but they are not a national problem: the solution to each lawless police brigade must necessarily be a local one, which will necessarily be a more difficult proposition than reforming a single political entity.”
There Has To Be A Solution; We Cannot Go Without One
Just recently, Salahuddin Ayubi was tortured to death in 2019 by a police officer. Ayubi’s death is the latest example of the widespread problem of custodial deaths in Punjab province. While the police typically blame deaths in custody on suicide, illness, or accident, victims’ family members who come forward frequently allege that the deaths were the result of torture or other ill-treatment. In a video, two police officers were seen hitting Ayubi and using abusive words to intimidate him. Ayubi appears to be in extreme pain and was struggling to comprehend the situation he was in. In a sickening display of abuse of power, the police officials were seen asking Ayubi to stick out his tongue for their amusement, apparently oblivious to the mental and physical condition of the suspect. Ayubi had went viral after he was caught stealing from an ATM in Faisalabad and then sticking his tongue out at the camera. Ayubi was apprehended from Rahim Yar Khan last week. Ayubi was a resident of Gujranwala and mute. He was also mentally-challenged. His body has been handed over to his father for burial, suggest reports on social media. Ayubi passed away while he was in police custody. He was reportedly suffering from a health condition and was rushed to a hospital when his condition deteriorated, where he died.
“We cannot continue to be policed by vain, egotistical gangsters who feel as if they can arrest us and beat us, and terrorize us at the slightest provocation.”
That is about how the police work these days. It must not continue. Police officers need a bit of latitude in order to do their job correctly, and they should not have to worry about losing their jobs or going to jail over-exercising that latitude within an acceptable range. And it should be noted that many police officers are honorable, valuable public servants who do genuine good in their communities. But the problem is larger than they are. We cannot continue to be policed by vain, egotistical gangsters who feel as if they can arrest us and beat us, and terrorize us at the slightest provocation. Police reform must happen — for Salahuddin, and for whoever comes after him.
Police training at present focuses almost exclusively on physical training with little emphasis on the latest investigation techniques. While some investigators have the enthusiasm and curiosity to learn on the job, most view the investigation wing as a temporary stint before moving on to greener pastures.
Therefore, investigators should be recruited through a professional body that selects the best talent to become permanent, non-transferable fixtures in their wings. They should then undergo specialised training at a dedicated institute. To determine how many investigators to allocate at the district and station level, the PRC needs a formula based on crime incidence rates and populations. In practice, officers in both operations and investigation are evaluated on the same standards, whereas investigators need to be assessed on specific indicators. Tying promotions of senior officers with mandatory tenure in investigation wings will also improve quality and ownership.
To improve coordination among different pillars of the criminal justice system at the district level, Article 109 of PO 2002 provides for the establishment of a seven-member Criminal Justice Coordination Committee. Though it is a coordination body, it often assumes an administrative role, and therefore the PRC should also review its listed functions.
The PRC also needs to address the weak communication link between investigators and victims, by devising procedures that make it binding for investigators to appraise victims about the progress of their case. Investigators should be trained to ensure that the satisfaction of victims is their top priority.
While governments do allocate funds for investigation, most investigators are not aware of reimbursement procedures. Working with the meager funds typically available, investigators cannot employ the latest techniques. Hence, for different types of crimes, standardised costs should be revised and notified. To discourage corrupt practices and misuse of investigation funds, the public ought to be informed through media. Public awareness will discourage corrupt elements from fleecing the innocents, thereby ensuring that the financial burden on victims will be reduced. This sort of transparency will also improve the police’s image in the public’s eyes.
Ultimately, reforms that do not improve the work environment and work culture at the police station level may not yield the desired dividends.
All these challenges require the immediate attention of the governments — both at the Centre and the States. The political leadership needs to understand that the dilapidated condition of the police system will negatively impact the security and integrity of the nation. It is time that we freed the police from the clutches of political masters and transform it from ‘Ruler’s Police’ to ‘People’s Police.’