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Should a military man lead Sri Lanka’s police? – upiasia.com

[MISC, Friday, 11 September 2009 12:15 No Comment]

Will the fall of Sri Lanka’s police service into the abyss be resolved by the appointment of an inspector general of police from military ranks?

All the analyses into the country’s police problem – beginning with the Soertsz Commission Report in 1946, followed by the Basnayake Commission of 1970 and the Police Service Report of 1995 – demonstrate that the central problem from the very inception of Sri Lanka’s police system has been that it is very much a militarized system rather than a civilian policing system.

Insurgencies since 1971 have further militarized this system. The appointment of an inspector general from military ranks would only add to the present collapse of the system rather than resolving it.

Retired Senior Deputy Inspector General Gamini Gunawardene, in an excellent article on the policing system, made the following observations:

“It is now rumored that the government is considering the feasibility of bringing an outsider as IGP as a remedy. The remedy could be worse than the malady …There seems to be a line of thinking these days that since the military officers did well under a capable leader, appointing an Army officer will be the panacea to all problems. The naiveté in this thinking is indeed astounding. Because each field is so specialized these days. The thinking seems to be that ‘you appoint the right man and the rest will fall into place.’ One shudders to imagine the consequences.”

The system has collapsed to its current state due to two major factors. The first is the domination of police operations by politicians of the ruling regime, due to which the officer in charge of a police station has virtually become a direct servant of these politicians.

The second is the loss of command responsibility by higher-ranking police officers, from the assistant superintendent of police up to the inspector general of police.

Due to these factors, the policing system does not function as a system anymore. Any and everything is possible within that system, however illegal. Whether police officers engage in drug dealing and protecting the drug dealers; whether they use their powers of arrest and detention to obtain bribes for themselves; whether they help politicians by putting their opponents behind bars under false charges, using anti-terrorism laws and anti-drug laws; or engage in any other type of illegality, there is hardly anything the system can do to stop it. Cosmetic measures such as arresting a few low-ranking officers do not make any difference.

How can these problems be resolved by appointing a military officer to head the police force? Can a military officer establish command responsibility for officers from the lowest to the highest rank? Will not the introduction of a military officer only help the errant superior officers even more, because they can easily mislead and even cheat their new leader, who is totally unfamiliar with the area of work they are engaged in?

Similar experiments elsewhere, where top posts have been given to people from completely different fields, provide enough examples of the distortions that can happen under such circumstances.

The malady of the system is that it has completely lost its organizational coherence. A policing system is a public service devoted to law enforcement. Thus, the relations with the public that are required of a policing system are of a completely different nature than those of the military.

The political leaders who have proposed bringing an inspector general of police from the military are not unaware of the completely different functions the police and the military carry out. Why, then, do they want to introduce a military leader into the already collapsed police system?

It cannot be for the purpose of restructuring the system of law enforcement and creating a proper policing service. However, these political leaders may have other ambitions. A more militarized police may be what is needed to subject the population to greater controls and to displace the rule of law altogether.

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