By Tassie Seneviratne –
Trials and tribulations in the Police Service are of a more challenging nature than in any other Public Service. This is so because police officers are empowered by law to curtail Rights and Liberties of persons. This is a sacred trust reposed on the Police. For the same reason it makes the police job far more grave, challenging and hazardous. Police officers have to be acquainted with this fact and be wary of, and prepared.
Many a time, due to differences of opinion, often due to lack of proper understanding as well as subjective considerations on the part of superiors – from within the service as well as from outside; controversial orders emanate from superiors. Coping with such situations is a knotty lesson for police officers to learn tactfully. A lesson not in books or manuals.
In their day to day work in dealing with the public, it is essential to act with foresight, and be always prepared for challenges to their actions. A case in point is a series of incidents that took place in Slave Island Police area in 1979. A major problem had sparked off over the trusteeship of a mosque in the predominantly Muslim Kompannaveediya. M.D. Kichilan, a former Senator and Mayor of Colombo, was the trustee of the mosque. He was abducted from his private office and taken to the mosque. A complaint was made to the Slave Island Police about the abduction and threat to his life in order to force him sign a document giving up his trusteeship. A police party had been dispatched and Kitchilan had been rescued and whisked away to safety, but the mob started to attack the police. The OIC Slave Island Police, T.K. Jayasingha (Tikka) rushed to the spot with an armed party to quell the violence that ensued. By the time Tikka arrived at the scene, a rifle shot had accidentally gone off killing two women onlookers on a faraway balcony when the mob tried to snatch it from the armed party that had arrived there earlier. The attack on the Police with stones, had developed to a more serious attack with lethal explosives called ‘duppy’- hand bombs improvised in arrack-bottle-stoppers. DIG Metropolitan and SP Colombo North had been undecided, the latter even suggesting that police withdraw from the scene! Violence was escalating with threat to life and property, and all other measures to quell the violence had failed. Tikka had assessed the situation and invoking the Police Firing Orders, had ordered fire at the mob leader who was identified by then. The mob leader succumbed to injuries from police shooting and the mob dispersed. The superior officers had suggested passing it as another accidental shooting. DIG Metro in fact had initially informed President Jayewardene that it was also a case of accidental fire. Tikka paid heed to none of these shoddy suggestions and stood his ground firmly. He presented the facts exactly as they had taken place, and the court held that death was due to justifiable shooting by the police. Had Tikka heeded the suggestions of his superiors, the police would have ended in a total mess up.
The lesson here is that police officers must know their powers and limitations, and enter notes justifying their actions under the law, and not depend on superior officers to pull them out if their actions are challenged.
Inexperienced officers can seek assistance from experienced officers to make notes, but that has to be done forthwith whether the action is challenged or not. Supervisory officers too must check on notes of subordinates to ensure proper notes are made, irrespective of complaints or not. When I was a raw sub-inspector, it was sergeants and senior constables who helped me to make notes to establish legality.
A serious set-back to police performance is the apathy on the part of police officers due to fear of Fundamental Rights (FR) cases against them. These apprehensions were amply given expression in a barracks talk recently between a Police Sargent (PS) and a keen constable (PC). PS: “Malli, bella dikkaranna epa – FR wetevi,” meaning, (Little brother, don’t stick your neck lest FR will come on you.) – A lesson of sorts, but how discouraging to a young police officer. In the face of FR cases too, the remedy is the same – make proper notes and be prepared to justify your actions under the law. FR procedures are in a fluid state aggravating the situation, for which the remedy has to come from the source. Often it seems that Rights of accused in FR cases are infringed in the process. Details cannot be discussed here due to space restrictions.
Police officers often find themselves abandoned by others in the Criminal Justice System (CJS), when investigating high profile cases and pressure is mounted on them.
As for the CID, it investigates complaints referred to it by the I. G. Police. Progress of the investigation is referred back to the IGP regularly and feed-back obtained. Correctly speaking, the IGP is responsible for all complaints referred by him to the CID.
Traditionally, CID investigations are handled by a team of investigating officers. Each individual officer in the team is only part of the team, and is not individually responsible. It is the team as a whole, the DIG/CID and the IGP that is responsible.
Once the investigation is completed, the inquiry file is submitted to the AG, who decides whether evidence is sufficient to file indictment. Thereafter the judiciary will adjudicate.
But, in the recent case of D/CID Shani Abeysekera’s remand episode, he has been projected and isolated by all aforesaid authorities until the Appeal Court Judgement. Thereby, Shani, who was only part of the CID investigating team has been singled out and exposed to the vengeance and vicious attacks for not being partial towards the powers that be. He has been also exposed to the Covid-19 Pandemic and conditions that brought about a heart decease. The lesson here seems to be: Each man for himself and God for all.
Shani’s episode is a case study where all the said vicissitudes and more have visited Shani’s head. Yes, abandonment, as laid out above, is the ultimate bitter pill for a police officer to swallow. But, knowing this bitter truth, it is for them to be prepared for these trials and tribulations. Yet, herein lies a beautiful lesson: To create beautiful art, you have to master a skill. To conquer a mountain, you have to secure your tools and build your strength. Then prepared you are more than conquerors, through experience, and faith in the One Above – to whom we all prayed for Shani. What a beautiful lesson!
Shani has been put to test like gold is refined in a furnace. Yet, his forte is in his modesty, and dependence on his Creator – The ultimate lesson.
*The writer is a Retired Senior Police Officer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org