Police try once again to win public’s trust through committees, not a change in attitude

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Nov 9, 2013.

Islamabad – The capital’s police put its plan of overcoming the trust deficit between Islamabad residents and police in to practice on Friday.

Inspector General of Police (IGP) Sikandar Hayat and members of a newly formed “citizen police coordination committee” for the Kohsar Police Station’s jurisdiction inaugurated the committee’s office room at the police station in F-7.

The committee is the first of similar public-police committees envisioned by Islamabad Police to be established at every police station in the federal capital.

Hayat said the main objective behind constituting the committee is to bridge the public-police divide and eliminate the notorious “thana culture.”

He said the culture, which has become a source of distrust for most Pakistanis, is borne out of police non-availability, lack of service delivery, corruption, abuse of power and illegal detentions and it must be changed.

The ten-member Kohsar Police Station citizen police coordination committee is composed of Human Rights activist and instructor Farzana Bari, F-7/1 resident Raja Muhammad Yaqub, Sabiha Advocate, Raja Amad Arif, President Jinnah Super Market Ijaz Abbasi, President Super Market Sarfaraz Mughal, F-7/3 resident Colonel (Retired) Naseer, Journalist Asif Bashir Chaudhry and France Colony residents Daniyal Masih and Basharat Ghauri.

Islamabad Police have also previously experimented with citizen-police committees but the exercise never produced significant improvement in resolving public complaints in the past. Hayat said previous experiments had failed because committee members had also taken to the corrupt practices of the policemen they were supposed to hold accountable.

He said the members of the Kohsar committee are not expected to repeat the mistakes of past committees because of their exemplary record and character.

Hayat said the members selected for the Kohsar Police Station are “genuinely good” people. He said it was important that the members be neutral and respectable, and with no political affiliations, so residents can trust them.

“We don’t want this committee to share the policing at this police station rather we want them to oversee the affairs of the police station,” Hayat said.

The police chief said the committee’s members would be completely allowed to ask police officers at the Kohsar Police Station about pending investigations, detentions and police attitude as well as cases that might benefit from mediation.

According to police, the committee’s members can meet suspects arrested by the police to check for human rights violations. The members will be assisted by Human Rights Officers (HRO), which are basically police officers appointed to facilitate the public, at the police stations.

If the members see any violation of standard procedure at the police station, they will direct the HRO to rectify the situation and send a report to the Zonal Superintendent of Police.

Chaudhry, a broadcast journalist and a member of the committee, said he hoped the committee’s attempts to put an end to crime would be successful and the committee would be able to help the community.

Ijaz Abbasi said he was a member or a mediation committee before but the roles and responsibilities of the present committee are bigger and better

“We will not use the committee for our personal gains and we will not let anyone be subjected to injustice,” said Abbasi.

Farzana Bari, a rights activist and committee member, said the effort by the police was encouraging.

“It seems like the Islamabad Police is determined to transform the Kohsar Police Station in to a Model police station,” Bari said.

She said people are still fearful of the police even though the mention of police should elicit a positive reaction of safety and security in the hearts of the masses.

“The police force should be transformed in to a police service for the people,” she said.

Senior Superintendent Police (Operations) Muhammad Rizwan said the committee would be a local check-and-balance for the policing activities.

The committee’s existence is commendable but there are apparent loopholes in the current set-up. There is no term limit for existing committee member and there does not seem to be any mechanism for independent merit-based selection of new committee members if one of the members leaves. The committee’s members also do not seem to have any authority to review and take action against excesses caused by the police. They are expected to bring any violations they notice to the attention of senior police officials.

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