156th Police Day… let’s hope for the best

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Sri Lanka Police marked its 156th Police Day in grandeur manner last Saturday at the Bambalapitiya Police Field Force Headquarters, where President Ranil Wickremesinghe, as the chief guest presented the ‘Presidential Police Valour Medal’ for Officer Jayantha Gunawardena, who died while on duty and symbolically presented certificates of appreciation to 30 Police officers who were on parliamentary security duty.

Marking the day, the President emphasised that the rule of law cannot be preserved without the Police and an independent Judiciary. He also stressed that the two institutions should be protected while moving forward.

The President also pointed out that the country’s democracy and the rule of law must be established in order to succeed in the country’s economic recovery programme.

Interestingly, the inception of Police duties in the country marks the deployment of four soldiers to control trade in the City of Colombo and to guard the city at night following a resolution passed by the Colombo Municipal Council as far back as 10 June 1650 after the conquest of the coastal areas by the Dutch.

However, 3 September is marked as the Police Day by considering the day Sir G. W. R. Campbell was first appointed to the position of Inspector General of Police 3 September, 1866, after Police Service was constitutionally established.

The Sri Lanka Police repeatedly insist  it is committed to discharging the significant responsibility of establishing and maintaining the law and order of the country. It is vested with the responsibility of establishing social security by affirming the security of every aspect of public life. Control and prevention of crimes, prevention of drug menace, controlling corruption, traffic control, protection of the environment, giving relief to people in disaster situations, and providing VIP security are the main tasks included in the scope of the Police.

As per the progress report submitted to the Parliament in 2019, Sri Lanka Police was able to reduce grave crimes by 5% in 2019, compared to those in 2018, homicides considered under grave crimes had declined by 10% in 2019 compared to 2018, felony murder under grave crimes had decreased by 14% in 2019 compared to 2018, rape of women had been reduced by 27% compared to 2018, overall road accidents had declined by 15% in 2019 compared to 2018. Furthermore, fatal accidents had reduced by 11% and accidents causing severe injuries by 12%. The number of people apprehended in connection with narcotics in 2019 was 109,941. The percentage of prosecution against offences committed under statutory acts was 94% in 2019.  More importantly, promotions have been offered to a large number of officers, i.e. 6,166 in 2019 compared to 2018.

Nevertheless, the country is bound to see different numbers when Sri Lanka subsequently submits its ‘progress report’ of 2022 in the future. Even though, Police are expected to protect the people and maintain law and order, the situation is such, these two targets clash when executing. Often when Police attempts to protect people they are often accused by some party of failing in law and order and vice versa. What we have so far witnessed is whenever Police take maintaining law and order seriously they are being accused of violating human rights. This raises the salient point of whether Sri Lanka Police is still sticking to its colonial methods of implementing law and order. We are yet to hear that there is no torture or deaths reported while in Police custody. We are yet to hear Police officers maintaining absolute transparency when executing law or taking action against suspects. In fact, after 156 years, we are yet to hear Police Department is not among the most corrupt institutions. 

2022, certainly was not the best year for the Sri Lanka Police and by looking at recent developments, the coming months will not make any difference. With escalating economic crisis and its ripple effects, Police were subsequently deviated from their usual duties. They were deployed at fuel stations to maintain order when public ran out of patience and often had to endure the wrath of the people. Then they were in the fore when public marched towards politicians and political establishments and often were squashed between their role as a men in uniform and as father, brother or a son when protestors chose to deliver sermons on whose side they should stand.

At the beginning, the Police acted in a more respectable manner garnering respect like they did during Covid pandemic by reducing the gap between Police and civilians. The rest was history. 

Moving forward, we are hoping Sri Lanka Police will be equipped with better training and facilities to carry out their duties respectfully. Let’s hope the Police service will be depoliticised or at least less politicised in future and be entitled to better salary structures and promotions like their counterparts in the military, so that they do not have to solicit bribes from people to carry out their duties.  Let’s hope they will be able to celebrate the 160th Police Day with dignity and stay true to their role of protecting the people while the military is protecting the State!