Thursday, 7 February 2013

Greater professionalism in police

Going the Distance (Selangor Times)
8 February 2013


Again the police are in the news for alleged violence that has led to death. This time the victim is C Sugumar, a man who was reportedly mentally disabled but by and large harmless.

The news reports do not look good for the police. For one thing, the man was handcuffed, so he would effectively have been incapable of inflicting any serious harm.

After all aren’t the police meant to be trained to subdue people without actually killing them? So, once a person is bound, shouldn’t it be standard procedure to restrain him without any further danger to the person?

The fact that there was a crowd involved also raises disturbing questions. What on earth were they doing there when the police were already in charge of the situation, and what were the police doing allowing the crowd to get involved in such a way (apparently they were beating the man too)? Then of course there is the mystery of the turmeric powder.

Naturally there can be no certainty as to what actually happened because there has been no official hearing yet, but this case does bring to the fore the need for two important developments with regard to the police.

Firstly, where is the independent police commission? I see no other choice but to have one if we are to dig the police out of the mire of public distrust they find themselves in. I am not anti police.

I have personally been a victim of crime and of course the first people you call are the cops. And it cannot be denied that these men and women put themselves at risk. We need them there, but we also need to know that they can be trusted.

As it stands there is no way out of this conundrum unless any wrong doing by the police is settled in a manner that ensures the public there is no cover up and where the guilty party can escape. And the only way to establish that is by having an independent body not beholden to either the government of the day or the police to deal with complaints.

Secondly, there is a need for greater professionalism within the police. From an outsiders perspective there seems to be a cowboy attitude prevalent where some of the people in blue at least believe that the ends justify the means.

We give the police a lot of power. They are armed and they can have a direct effect on our lives unlike any other citizens. That power must be used responsibly for when unrestrained and unprofessional behaviour is combined with handcuffs, batons, tear gas and guns, then what we have is a situation where people live in fear or an organisation which was meant to protect.

What is required is a paradigm shift where crime fighting per se is not the sole objective nor is it the measurement with which the success of the police is measured. Instead there has to be an understanding that in a civilised democratic country there has to be the strict adherence to procedure; procedure which is not only designed to solve or stop crimes but at the same time to ensure that the values of a democratic state, human rights, fairness and justice are maintained.

For without these values, and without a police force that understands and respects them, then just what is it that they are risking themselves for?

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