Policing principles

By Tariq Khosa

THE nine principles Sir Robert Peel laid down in 1829 when he established the London Metropolitan Police remain relevant today:

“1) The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder. 2) The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions. 3) Police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public. 4) The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionally to the necessity of the use of physical force.

“5) Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion, but by … demonstrating … impartial service to the law. 6) Police can use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient. 7) Police … should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police…. 8) Police should … direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary. 9) The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.”

Unfortunately, police in Pakistan have failed to gain citizens’ trust. We often find a nexus between compliant police commanders and political leaders who disregard the rule of law. The rulers’ hold over police through transfers, postings, promotions and other administrative and operational matters has destroyed discipline and morale in the ranks. The real sufferers are the people for whom the traits of good governance, merit, fairness, impartiality, integrity, efficiency and courage of conviction in police services are missing.

These features require a greater understanding of the principles of superintendence and autonomy, external and internal accountability, and professionalism and service delivery. Some of the following points I have made earlier but they are important to reiterate.

Superintendence: i) The responsibility of this may vest in the government but does not mean the latter should use police to settle political scores. The government’s role is to set policy direction, not select officers at whim and meddle in the force’s administrative and operational affairs. ii) While parliament, the courts, media and civil society are external accountability mechanisms, non-political institutions are required to provide the police and public with safeguards against extraneous influences. iii) An effective criminal justice system is impossible without the help of an impartial, independent police. For this, ensuring the security of tenure for two to three years for police commanders and allowing them a free hand in internal administrative and financial matters is a must.

Accountability: i) Concerns about police corruption, misuse of authority, illegal detentions, torture, faulty investigations, etc must be addressed. The centre and provinces must prioritise setting up independent police complaints authorities, headed by reputed retired judges or police officers. ii) Internal accountability branches and district-level public complaints mechanism installed across Pakistan on Supreme Court orders in 2019 should be strengthened. iii) Governments should never condone staged police encounters. Every encounter causing death must be independently probed. iv) Corrupt police officials should be weeded out through new legislation or by amending present laws.

Professionalism: i) The metropolitan model of policing should be established in large cities where small-scale police stations may be replaced with divisions headed by SPs. This would not downgrade the SPs but upgrade a basic police unit giving it preventive, detective, law and order, traffic and record management systems under one roof managed by a senior officer. ii) The IGs should create a merit-based pool of SHOs and SDPOs. iii) A pool of investigators is an urgent need as a specialised sub-cadre requiring high levels of competence and integrity. iv) Crime scene units must be established in each district and sub-division and a manual for first responders and investigators prepared; v) As recommended by the Police Reform Committee, district-level committees should be formed to analyse bails granted and acquittals recorded to identify loopholes in investigation, prosecution and trial. vi) Massive retraining and attitudinal changes are needed. Empathy for disadvantaged sections must be emphasised in police ranks.

The message is clear for our politicians: they must choose between strong institutions with an effective role in administration of justice or continue with a fractured system where a weakened police keeps capitulating to the power wielders.


The writer is former IG Police and author of The Faltering State and Inconvenient Truths.


Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2020