Eroding confidence in police, a serious issue

The wording on the logo of the 142-year-old Sri Lanka Police proclaims, in the words of Lord Buddha, ‘dhammo have rakkhathi dhamaachaari’ - he who lives by the dhamma is protected by the dhamma. It may well be time to revise this, at least on the logo, to say that those who side with the police are protected by the police, if events of the past week are any yardstick.

Consider the evidence: A student at a higher educational institution in Malabe is abducted, threatened and beaten allegedly by the wife and son of a top ranking police officer and days later, two youths detained by the police over a minor complaint are found dead within hours, with gunshot wounds, in Angulana, leading to mayhem in that area.

And, just to confound the picture, the same policeman, whose son and wife are allegedly involved in the assault of the student, ‘discovers’ a haul of explosives in Mannar, only to be scoffed at by a Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police who says that the circumstances of the ‘discovery’ are extremely irregular and suspicious.

It was only a few weeks ago, in the aftermath of the victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), that we were falling over ourselves in trying to felicitate the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Police, for the role these services played in the annihilation of the Tigers and the valiant men and women who sacrificed life and limb for this, richly deserved all the accolades they received.

On that occasion, when the focus of the entire international community was on Sri Lanka and there were many vested interests eager to point fingers at this country, it became self evident that the Sri Lankan Armed Forces - the Army, Navy and the Air Force - were among the most disciplined in the world. Today, we have to bury our heads in shame and admit that the same cannot be said about the Sri Lanka Police.

The incidents in Malabe and Angulana are a sad testimonial to the arrogance, indiscipline and partisan nature of the Sri Lanka Police. It is also an indication of a trend where the police, the State authority tasked with the maintenance of law and order, are becoming a law unto itself. We must forewarn that this tendency could grow into a social crisis of mega proportions in the near future, if it is not nipped in the bud now.

In the Malabe incident, everyone seems to know who the suspects are and the media has virtually revealed every minute detail of the gory event. But for the super efficient Sri Lanka Police, this is not enough and none of the key suspects have been apprehended yet. Of course, various spokesmen for the police have been making the usual promises of an ‘impartial’ inquiry! In this instance, the wheels of justice seem to be moving in slow motion.

Contrast this with what transpired at Angulana: A complaint is made, two youth are detained, summary justice is meted out and their bodies are found by the roadside. The police appear to have finished their job at lightning speed, playing judge, jury and executioner in a fast-forward enactment of the entire judicial process.

Then, we also to have to consider the incident of ‘discovering’ explosives in Mannar. A DIG is stating that the circumstances surrounding the event are suspicious. In a strange coincidence, the officer involved is the same person whose son is implicated in the Malabe incident. The entire episode is indeed getting ‘curiouser and curiouser’, as Alice in Wonderland would have said!
In the context of these events, will there be any confidence at all in what the Police Department does in the future? We have been told that the war is over. In a post-war scenario, the Army, Navy and Air Force will essentially revert to a defensive role and the onus will shift to the police to maintain law and order in the country. Can that happen when the police demonstrates blithe disregard for the letter and spirit of the law and does only what it wants, when it wants?

We do know that some policemen and some politicians work in tandem in this country. It is often a symbiotic relationship. The politician requires the policeman to do his bidding in the locality he represents. The policeman requires the politician for his own survival and to ward off evils such as ‘punishment transfers’. It must, therefore, follow that any attempt to cleanse the police of corrupt officers who abuse their powers must involve an attempt to rid it of political influence as well.

After each and every incident, impartial inquires have been promised and ‘special teams’ have been appointed. So far, very few culprits of the khakied gentry have been brought to book. There is no reason to be optimistic that the final outcome of last week’s incidents would be any different.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is riding high on a wave of popularity. He could do without the kind of adverse publicity that is generated by the Sri Lanka Police, which will eventually be his responsibility, because he is also the Minister of Defence and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Police. Therefore, it also in his and his government’s interest to rein in the police and deal with those responsible, so that it would serve as a deterrent to others in the future.
It is said that in times of war, laws are silent. Even though the war is now over, the silence of the Sri Lanka Police is deafening.