Making police more people-friendly

A friend of mine is a father of two admirably beautiful daughters. They had grown up and boys had started to notice them.
Another acquaintance of mine happened to like one of the sisters, and requested me to talk to my friend.
My acquaintance wanted to send a marriage proposal to my friend. I sought his resume, and then I broke the news to my friend.
My acquaintance had a brother who was a police officer. Hearing this, my friend rejected the proposal of my acquaintance. I wanted to know why he rejected the proposal. My friend said: “I won’t get my daughter into a family that has a police officer.”
I wanted to know what was wrong with a family having a police officer. He replied that he thought police officials were dishonest, and he didn’t want to have a relationship with a family that had a dishonest person.
This is a common perception that prevails in our society. Our police force as a whole has left a very negative impression in the minds of the people.
The citizens go to the police for seeking help when they have nothing else to do. Otherwise, the citizens would prefer not to seek any help from the police. They don’t see the police as problem-solvers; rather, they think the police will make a problem more complicated.
The government also realizes that the people are scared of the police. The people at the helm also feel that the police will have to become more people-friendly.
The number of helpless and help-seeking people is greater than the number of criminals in this country, but the police officials and their forces behave with the people in such a way that all are criminals. The new police commissioner has recently said that if there’s a need, he himself will sit in the police stations to serve the people.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has also requested the police to be more people-friendly and humane. She opined that the people want to see the police as their helpers, not someone who scares them.
Expecting the police to become citizen-friendly is not a new subject of discussion in this country. We have been hearing such statements from the politicians as well as from the police chiefs for more than two decades now.
However, there has been little or no change in the police personnel’s behaviour with the people.
But reforming and upgrading the police force as a helper of the people are essential tasks both for the policy-makers as well as for the police high command.
It’s very demeaning to accept that our police will continue to exist in the society with an extremely negative reputation.
Now, what may the police administration do in order to make the force people-friendly?
I asked around for positive suggestions. I questioned a few friends and most of them said that in the existing nature and practices, it’s not possible to turn around and be people-friendly.
They said this police force was carrying on the legacy of the British colonizers. During that time, the police were used as a tool for ruling the people, not serving them. The practice in the post-colonial eras hasn’t changed; the regimes of this country have not been utilizing the police as servers of the people, but as a tool for suppressing any protest or uprising against them. The people in power need to stop using the police as a political tool, otherwise they will not be people-friendly.
One suggested that if the members of the police force stop earning their income by inappropriate means, they are bound to become people-friendly. Yes, there’s a question-mark on the income of police officials. Would increasing their salaries solve the problem? This is, again, a subject of another discussion, as many think a salary-increase won’t solve the problem.
A majority of the public think this is one of the huge obstacles for the police to become citizen-friendly. Helping the people is their basic responsibility, not helping themselves get paid.
Some think that the police officials themselves need to stop getting involved in criminal activities, and they should be the first ones to abide by the laws of the land. When they can practise following the law of the land, they will certainly become citizen-friendly.
Hankering after income by inappropriate means has become a disease among the members of the police force. This has to stop.
Some have suggested that changes need to start at the training level. Presently, they think our police officials are instilled with an anti-people attitude. Our government may also think of reforming the police at the training level.
Much has been discussed about how to reform the police and turn them into a citizen-friendly force — a helper of the people.
Some police officials do understand the expectations of the people, and they have been trying their best at the individual level. We come across many police officers who have displayed outstanding people-friendly professional skills.
The administration may think of highlighting their good deeds as examples.
Finally, it is the government and the police high-ups who have to be sincere about reforming the force and make it citizen-friendly. Making the police force citizen-friendly requires a paradigm shift in their behaviour. For that to happen, the police administration itself requires to roll out a massive internal cultural-change campaign which perhaps would take a long time. But the campaign has to start if the administration means what they are saying.
First published in Dhaka Tribune.

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