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Going beyond guidelines in tackling Police misconduct

Going beyond guidelines in tackling Police misconduct

7 days ago

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In a bid to address a long drawn-out issue within the Police force, i.e. Police officers covering up the wrongdoings of their fellow officers and acting in their favour, the National Police Commission (NPC) recently said that it is in the process of preparing a series of new guidelines to prevent such in the future. Speaking to The Daily Morning, NPC Chairman and former Inspector General of Police Chandra Fernando noted that the said situation has led to a rise in instances of misconduct among Police officers in the recent past.

He acknowledged that this is an issue with the Police culture. While that acknowledgement coming from the apex body tasked with overseeing Police activities is a good sign, in a context where even legal provisions have not adequately succeeded in curbing Police misconduct, and given the complexity of such cases, whether an updated or new guideline would be sufficient to address the aforesaid issue is highly questionable.

Police officers covering up the unacceptable and often illegal conduct of their colleagues, or acting in a biassed manner to help these wrongdoers during investigations, is not just an issue of discipline. Anecdotal data strongly suggest that corruption, which involves bribery or other forms of undue advantages, the influence of the political authority or of high ranking public officials, and also personal biases or interests such as friendship, plays an important role in such incidents. At the same time, past cases of such cover-ups within the Police force prove that sometimes, more than two parties are involved in some cases, and that some of them may not even be from within the Police force. 

Without carefully analysing what factors motivate Police officers to cover up the wrongdoings of their colleagues, it is not possible to find solutions to the issue. In fact, at a time when the public, including Police officers, have been pushed to live in dire economic conditions, benefits, particularly financial benefits, may play an important role in motivating Police officers, or any person who is in need of money for that matter, to behave in such a way.

It is obvious that dealing with such a multifaceted issue requires something more than a mere guideline. If Sri Lanka’s best solution to this issue is a set of guidelines, then there should be a proper system to ensure that these guidelines are followed and implemented, and that a strict system is in place to take action against those who fail to follow suit, or do not adhere to these guidelines. 

However, the ideal solution would be to launch a large scale programme to study and analyse the above mentioned aspects of this issue. Based on the findings of such a programme, the authorities could then take measures to raise awareness on the impacts of covering up misconduct, hold discussions on what indirect factors compel Police officers to engage in such acts, form guidelines specific to certain groups of Police officers depending on the nature of their duties, and to have a strong system that facilitates legal and disciplinary actions against Police officers that cover up their fellow officers’ wrongdoings. 

While it is important to take the initiative to address the said issue, ensuring that these initiatives lead to sizable, positive change is key.

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