THE growing involvement of the police in crimes of various sorts — trading in drug substances, extortion, arrest on false charges, custodial torture and killing disguised as death in ‘crossfire’, to name a few — raises serious concern, calling for the authorities to effect administrative reforms in the force and the establishment of an independent police complaint commission to deal with the crimes that the police, who are meant to deter crimes, commit. Although the police, not all of them but quite a significant number of the personnel that is enough to tarnish the image of the force and erode people’s confidence in law enforcement, are known to have always been involved in crimes, such incidents have started coming in a large number especially after the death of a former army major in police firing on the Cox’s Bazar–Teknaf Marine Drive on July 31. Eleven police personnel, including the Teknaf police officer-in-charge, have been arrested in connection with the incident. Police headquarters data show that 235 cases were filed against 357 police personnel across the country in 2019. The Dhaka Metropolitan Police tops the list with 31 cases against 43 personnel, followed by the Cox’s Bazar police with 13 cases against 35 personnel and, then, by the Satkhira police with eight cases against 20 personnel.
The number of complaints against police personnel involved in what they must not be involved has over the years increased. A cell set up at the police headquarters in 2017 has so far received several thousand complaints against police personnel. Records put the number of complaints against police personnel at 14,315 in 2018, 14,558 in 2017 and 13,503 in 2016. About 10,000 personnel faced departmental proceedings in 2015. Experts believe that the police could not rid themselves of repressive nature and that the problems lie with the police recruitment, posting and transfer. Lenient punishment such as the withdrawal of errant personnel from the place of posting and suspension from job even for major wrongdoings are said to have contributed to such a height of police involvement in crimes. In some cases, errant personnel thus withdrawn or suspended are even seen to have been promoted to higher ranks or posted to better places. A Dhaka Metropolitan Police surveillance of June has found about 20 police officers to have been involved in trade in drug substances. The city police also seek to say that they were about to terminate the job of 26 police personnel, on charge of drug abuse, which would send out a signal to fellows in the force. But this may not be a likely case as the police records say that 74 personnel lost their job in 2018, 36 in 2017 and 83 in 2018; yet there were 235 complaints against police personnel in 2019.
What the authorities now need are institutional and administrative reforms in the law enforcement agencies, regular criminal proceedings in place of or along with departmental proceedings against errant personnel, intensive police training in rights issues and the establishment of an independent police complaint commission, which should be a non-departmental public body operating under statutory powers and duties defined by an act to oversee the system for handling complaints made against police forces. The government must set out all the processes simultaneously to make the law enforcers behave.
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