‘Any reform initiative to improve policing must involve people’

PANAJI: No policing can succeed without public co-operation, and public views are paramount for any police reform to succeed, felt former top police officials, stressing that higher registration of crimes is not a sign that crimes are on the rise but that people are more comfortable entering police stations.

"Any reform initiative to improve policing must involve the people in order to gain public confidence and emerge as a trusted service," former top cop, Mr Julio Ribeiro told media.

After the Chief Minister’s announcement that there will be a new Goa Police Act by March 2013, the Council for Social Justice and Peace, Goa, and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi, organised a public consultation to generate debate on what should be a good police law.

While a draft Police Bill has been on the books since 2008, there has been no public consultation at all, according to the seminar.

Former director general of police, Kerala, and now with CHRI, Mr Jacob Punnoose, spoke about his state’s efforts towards a people- friendly police arguing that a people-friendly policeman should be the norm and not the exception.

Participants raised points such as police abuses including torture in custody and routine malpractices such as non-registration of FIRs, shoddy investigations and corruption that is prevalent across ranks.

Allegations that came up were that corruption was most acute in matters of recruitment and transfers and police officers were often unaware of their legal duties and procedures and criticised the deep rooted police-criminal nexus.

"People deserve policing that is professional, lawful, impartial, representative of society, and accountable both to the law and to the people. Policing at present is far removed from this vision," felt participants.

Ms Maja Daruwala, director of CHRI, stressed "a cardinal principle of democratic policing is taking into consideration people’s concerns and expectations while drafting and debating police laws as policing has a direct impact on people’s lives."

Mr Punnoose shared the experience of Kerala in the stages before the Kerala Police Act, 2011 was enacted into a law.

"The need for better policing has been a public issue in Kerala for the last decade, resulting in a great deal of public debate and discussion on key policing issues," he said adding, "Good policing is a need, not of the police nor of the government, but of the people."

He recounted that a committee of police officers prepared a draft "with the express purpose of drafting a law for the people, not for the police department."

The draft was finally submitted to the government and introduced in the assembly and then referred to a select committee. The select committee held widespread meetings in every district of Kerala and consultations with various groups, including lawyers, academics, media and grass root organisations.

Following consultations, the committee made about nearly 400 amendments to the bill. The Kerala Police Act, 2011 was then passed after hours of debate in the Assembly.

"The result of this wide consultation is that the new Police Act of Kerala is owned by the people of the state," he said.

Fr Maverick Fernandes exorted the participants to demand from the government to institute a proper consultative process in the making of the new Police Act.

"No government can claim to be good and efficient if it does not listen to the citizens. We should not avert our responsibility. This is the moment to capture to make real democracy operative," Fr Fernandes concluded.