Militancy and drug abuse are, no questions asked, real problems that our society faces today. Without even going into the specifics of either, it is easy to see how critical a role law enforcement has to play in each. So in that context, the comments of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) AKM Shahidul Hoque on Wednesday at a programme in Chittagong are very interesting.
The IGP has indicated that, in order to engage people, they are looking into more “people-oriented” policing strategies, and have initiated “community policing,” in order to combat the emerging threats of terrorism, militancy and drug abuse. Now, community policing is not new, indeed it is a welcome initiative. It exists in various countries of the world, and has potential in creating, what the IGP called, “a sense of security among people.”
But, is community policing really the most important thing that our police force needs today? The 2015 National Household Survey by TIB identified law enforcement agencies as the second most corrupt sector in the country. A whooping 74.6 percent of survey respondents had claimed to have experienced corruption when availing this service. And what does the IGP even mean, one wonders, when he says he is looking into more “service-oriented policing”? I always thought, at least ideally, the police were supposed to be service oriented towards the people anyway.
Of course, the IGP’s remarks are positive indications. This is not to disparage the potential of community policing. But, with a largely corrupt sector, the dangers of community policing turning into a Gestapo like state, where the personal motivations can put innocents in danger make me fearful. For community policing to work, indeed for the police to gain the trust of the general people, to be free of connotations of power and ruling over us ordinary folks, accountability and transparency should be the foundations. As long as I can see blatant examples of the law flouting the Law, when my heart freezes up just in asking a policeman for directions on the road, ‘community policing’ and ‘people oriented policing’ will remain store-bought medals — good for displaying in a showcase, but for all other purposes, practically useless.
The writer is a member of the editorial team, The Daily Star