Feb 24, 2009

By chance or by training?

Are policemen taught to behave the way they normally do? That is the million-dollar question
Many of us would definitely have heard strange and interesting tales about the training provided to the personnel of police force. This may be provided at the time of their recruitment or during the course of their professional career.
Common perception is that the low-ranking police officers have to hear abuses all day long and are taught how to abuse those they investigate or deal with during their service. An unconfirmed report even says that the junior rank employees are given shoe policies and asked to paint each other's face black.
The purpose explained for this exercise, by those who claim this practice exists, is to erase the word 'self-respect' from the dictionary of the recruits. After being subjected to humiliation of this sort they would hardly feel sorry for any one subjected to similar treatment.
A sub-inspector in the Punjab Police tells TNS that an instructor taught him ways to torture the accused in such a way that no medical board or court could detect the injury. However, he says, this advice was verbal and not documented or mentioned in any text book given to them for study.
He says he was also advised by many to use abusive language and behave arrogantly inside the police station or wherever he had any contact with the general public. The immediate benefit of adopting this attitude, as told to him by his advisors, is that the number of complainants visiting the police station and the number of criminal cases registered there subsequently remains low. "If you start accommodating people and treating them as VIPs, the whole city will start frequenting the place and the number of registered cases will start to skyrocket."
However, the high-ups in the police department are not ready to accept the existence of such practices in the trainings provided by the police department. Additional Inspector General (Training), Punjab Police, Fayyaz Ahmed Mir, tells TNS that even though he has been hearing such things from his early days in service there is no truth in them.
He says the real problem is that many illiterate people were recruited in the past without fulfilling the requirements. "We have observed that the literacy level of a trainee is directly proportional to his level of retention and the effectiveness of the training programme. I mean, a learned and competent official selected on merit can benefit much more than an illiterate person recruited on MPA or MNA quota."
Fayyaz says he is hopeful that things will now improve fast, adding that it is for the first time that the provincial government has abolished such quotas.
He says the department has recently dismissed around 200 policemen whose height was less than required.
Fayyaz says the training programmes in Punjab and other provinces are now focusing on bringing attitudinal change among policemen and make them conscious of self respect. He says it is for the first time in the history of the police department that the oath taken by the recruits binds them to "protect the life, property, honour and self-respect of the people".
The Additional IG thinks it's the pressing work environment that makes policemen short-tempered. "When you don't go home for days and have to work for 16 or more hours in a day, you tend to lose your patience."
Though this cannot be accepted as an excuse for maltreating citizens, he says, reducing workload may help improve the situation. To support his claim, he says the attitude of motorway police, highway patrolling post staff and traffic wardens is much better than the policemen employed in watch and ward and investigation wings of the police department. "They are content with the salaries and the load of work on them - something that reflects directly in their performance and behaviour towards people."
The holding of two conferences by Punjab Police last year, with the collaboration of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on how to deal with detainees and criminals, is what Fayyaz mentions as another step in the right direction.
Fasihuddin, an SSP in NWFP Police, tells TNS that unfortunately the police reforms have been made at a legal, administrative and structural level, and not at the functional level of capacity-building or human resource management. There is a need to revamp the whole training process for police officials to make them public servants in real terms and save them from the imprints of the police envisaged during colonial times.
Fasihuddin cites the findings of a survey of 60 police officers conducted by him and says that though most of them (22 per cent) termed terrorism the biggest challenge to the current police, 14.44 per cent said the biggest challenge was the lack of adequate training facilities for police force. This no doubt calls for a special emphasis on improving the quality of training offered to police.

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