By Ranga Kalansooriya –
I was flagged down by two traffic cops somewhere in a place in down south last week for high speeding. I was pretty sure I was below the speed of 60 as I was blocked by two three-wheelers, but the cop showed me 76 on the screen of his old, poorly wired speedometer which could be at least two decades old. I had a good case to argue, but would I be successful? Thus, decided to compromise.
Instead of writing the charge sheet, one cop started talking to me in a decent manner. He wanted to know where I work and who am I, and where I was going. I was not keen to divulge further personal details as those were not directly involved with the offense that I have allegedly committed. But I told them that as I have exceeded only 4 points of the speed limit, they have two options – either to charge sheet or warn and pardon me – and I urged for the second option. They were bit obliging, but indicating “something” in return. Then I became firm – no bribes. “The people of this country decided on January 08 that enough is enough – and that decision includes you, not only the Executive of the country. That decision should go to the grassroot of the system of governance including yourself. So, please don’t pardon me, but write the charge sheet,” I demanded with a strong voice.
Then the two cops started feeling the heat assuming that I am from a somewhere higher up. They repeatedly asked who I was and I repeated that I am a citizen of this country. And then they started pleading me to leave without a charge sheet, but I insisted that I will not leave until I get the charge sheet to my hands. Now a big drama unfolding on the street. Vehicles were flying, but the attention of these two helpless cops was entirely on me. My wife was furious as I was not obeying to the request of the cops – [another cop in waiting in the car].
Then the two cops started divulging their grievances, probably to win my sympathy – but those stories really disturbed my thoughts. “Sir, this is the 26th hour that I am continue to wear this uniform without a single minute rest,” one said. And we are extensively being pressurized by our superiors, poor salary systems, no welfare, no appraisals, away from families for long periods, tough duties under tremendous conditions, the list of agonies continued. What a level of frustration..!!
We should be thankful to these cops at least they are smiling, I was thinking.
Of course, there are plenty of complaints against these guardians of law and order of the country. Just think for a while – what is the first impression that you get when you hear the word “Police.” I am sure the brand does not bring positive connotations to your mind as it is cluttered with corruption, misuse or abuse of power, misconduct, no respect for individuals or human rights, the list could go on. And there are plenty of examples that could be derived from every rank and file of the police force, from the top most to the bottom. Imagine, if we had an IGP who had drug trafficking barons to pay for his higher education, Deputy IGs conducting contract killings and treasure hunting, what else we could expect from the lower ranks.
Mind you, this is not unique to Sri Lanka, almost everywhere it is the same except countries like Singapore where you find better salary and other systems are in place for these service providers.
But there is another part of the coin as well. The frustration and disappointment among the cadres at all levels. If a human being is wearing a uniform and continuing his duties for the 26th hour at a stretch, what kind of humanity could we expect from him? Thus, his stress is relived through the beating up of a person on a street, or in the cell. This is not to justify the misconduct of cops at any cost, please do not misunderstand. I hope you have seen the recent video of cops beating a handicap person in public in Anuradhpaura and the stupid clarification by their seniors to justify the conduct. Look at how the police dealt with the 17 year old suspect on the Seya’s rape and murder case by divulging unnecessary details to the public? Remember the recent famous Batti case in Ratnapura where a cop physically attacked a woman in public in Ratnapura? Why these incidents are continue to occur?
There is a dire need of perception change in both sides – police and the public. On the side of the police, not only the perceptions, but structural and technical as well. One needs to look at their grievances with an open mind. “My take home salary is around 17,000 as I have loans and other levies on my salary. Wife is not employed and we have two kids. How on earth we can live with this salary?” asked one police sergeant. If all allowances calculated along with the basic salary, the take home of a constable would reach around Rs 35,000 but when loans are deducted and other levies are paid, the balance is hardly anything, they would claim. Not that every police officer would receive his or her living quarters, thus there is a heavy house rent as well. Supply of uniforms is not in a satisfactory status, for an example one pair of shoes and only two pairs of socks per year.
Of course, one can easily compare with this any other sector of the state where the salary structures are not that different. But please do not forget the fact these servicemen and women have no specific working hours and they are not compensated for their extra duty hours – imagine that cop I mention above has completed by then his 26th hour of duty – a pure violation of labour laws, but those legal systems are not applicable there. The only methods of compensation are independent appraisal and rewards – both do not exist in better standards within the police department, as I understood. The appraisals are not independent and transparent – but entirely depend on individualism, so do rewards. Mostly nepotism or favorism could be the main criteria for selection. The reward fund of the police department would amounts to billions of rupees but hardly anyone would receive them – or rewarded for the deserving cases, both seniors and juniors would complain. The rewarding system should be entirely revised, make it transparent and independent as it is currently under the prerogative of one individual, they claim. The story of police promotions is another can of worms, it seems. Thus, the level of frustration remains at its highest which is being relived through the line of duty. Yahapalanaya should penetrate in to all levels of governance ending authoritarianism, a good comment I heard from a senior ranker.
The change of perception within the rank and file is of paramount importance if the police need to correct its negative image within the society. The process should start from the grass root constable who is the first victim of the chain of command. Police need to review all those recent adverse incidents and find out what where went wrong and why it has happened – and then try to find remedies. Then only the change of perception from the public could be expected.
(I will not seek comments from both police spokesmen, the acting one as well as the one studying in China as both of them are well known to me from our young days –and their own stories will be longer than this piece).