Senior Police Officers Are The Source Of Notorious ‘Thana Culture’
Senior police officers mostly stay off the hook when it comes to police reforms. Most of them have great reputations and evade criticism even when they are falling short on their responsibilities. In our culture, where almost everything that needs to be done requires personal contacts, nobody wants to be out of favor with senior police officers due to their powerful position and potential usefulness on a rainy day.
What gets ignored is that senior police officers are right at the heart of the problems associated with the police department.
It is true that, for good reasons, the junior staff is often the face of the police’s bad image. But it’s important to note that the junior staff operate according to a set and proven culture. Deep down, their conduct is a result of having no confidence in their senior officers. They are well aware that they can survive in police and have prosperous careers even when doing wrong, but the same wouldn’t be as likely if they decided to stand up for the rule of law and swim against the current alone.
There is a lot of wrong at the executive level in the police that doesn’t get talked about due to the elite nature of senior officers. But we cannot ignore these problems if we want to talk about real police reforms.
At the core of the issue is the fact that senior police officers often lack leadership qualities, skills and determination to rise to the numerous challenges their profession brings with it. In fact, more often than not, the senior police officers are in a state of almost complete surrender before their subordinates, who are much more adept at doing police work and are familiar with its ingrained culture.
Even though they passionately defend political independence and self-accountability for the attainment of excellence in the police, the senior officers’ basic instinct is to rescue their staff when they discover their wrongdoings. Meanwhile, when they are tasked to improve police performance, they turn towards improving the police image instead. When they are asked to resolve people’s problems (register their FIRs, act on merit) they start creating Dispute Resolution Councils (DRCs) which is not even their domain. All the while, the real police problems remain at large.
There are several other misconceptions as well that our nominal police reforms ride on: for example, the notion that simply by making senior officers more accessible, people’s problems will be fixed.
A lot can be written to highlight the problems with senior officers in our police force. Here I have listed down a few of these problems.
Everyone knows about the dreaded “thana culture”. A common misconception is that thana culture is limited to the thana (local police station) but sadly it is equally deeply rooted in the executive branch. The reality is that the senior officers do the same things that an SHO does, to bring a victim to a compromise, deceive and diffuse the case instead of standing by the weaker party in opposition to a stronger one. Even the fact that, despite all criticism, the thana culture continues to thrive bears testimony to the senior officers’ complete complicity in the matter.
Surprise visits to police stations are mere optics
Many officers are seen paying surprise visits to police stations under their command to check records, attendance, etc. This may create a good impression but, in reality, these are simply futile exercises, mostly done for optics.
Senior officers receive tonnes of complaints about the junior staff’s conduct. If they really wanted to address these issues, why would they not set the records straight based on these complaints? They should be able to do the homework of reading these complaints, then visit the concerned police station and ask tough questions. This way, their visits will be much more meaningful and will create a culture of accountability and strict compliance with rules by the junior staff.
It runs quite contrary to reason that instead of following up on problems which are actually reported to them, they run off to search for unknown problems.
Another deceptive optic to paint a favorable picture in the public’s eye is the setting up of khuli kachehris by police officers.
Most people who come to khuli kachehris are already tormented by the same chain of command and have experienced ordeals at the hands of police. Adding another meeting with the police will hardly solve the problems of these petitioners, when their cases have remained unsolved for years. In fact, it is just an extension of the thana culture in which endless hope is given to petitioners, but their issues are never resolved. In this sense, khuli kachehris are only the final stop in a long trail of deceptions.
It’s also worth noting that most police cases are way too complex to be handled in a khuli kacheri where countless people wait for their turns and hardly get enough time. An office is a better environment to give proper attention to a case.
Mistreatment of junior staff
Senior police officers like to flaunt the sacrifices made by the police department, and these sacrifices usually comprise of junior staff. Yet, the officers remain criminally negligent, even ignorant, of the issues faced by those under their command. Often times, they come to know about terrible ordeals of their own staff through social media when it goes viral.
Moreover, it says a lot when we see that out of nearly 5000 policemen who were punished under the KP Police reforms, 4,724 (92 percent) were constables and head constables. It is as if the senior officers are ready to throw these frontlines soldiers of justice under the bus, simply to show off the “performance” of the police department.
Ruining young officers
The young PSP officers are a ray of hope with conscience and determination to do something better. But to do something better, they first need examples where their seniors have stood up for the rule of law (in a challenging case), but sadly there are none. There is no precedence for them to follow to stand with the common man against a powerful assailant. It’s understandably very hard for young officers to follow their own judgment when they know deep down that it will not be welcomed.
The absence of any good role models in their seniors naturally starts their deterioration process. Soon, they themselves become acclimatised to the status quo. Thus, seniors essentially ruin the new entrants to the force. How can SPs outdo an SSP or CCPO after their roles as well as their limitations have been made clear to them? When a fresh entrant to the officer cadre of the police department is unable to stand up to his superior in favour of justice, he is already being conditioned to take the side of the stronger party in comparison with the weaker.
Police on social media
A growing number of police officers are joining social media. This fact is not a bad thing in itself but the way police officers present the merits of their department in overblown fashions, without having much to show for it on the ground, is bound to create more problems.
Similar to the campaigns and promises of the PTI on social media before coming into power, the police is amping up its image without the resources to fulfill its promises. One need only look at the PTI’s performance and the vast distance between its performance and the promises it made to the people, to realise what kind of disappointment this will bring.
Senior police officers need to lead by example and transform the thana culture, stand by victims and be able to say no to the more influential members of the society. They have to snap out of their timidity as the nature of their job demands.
The most important thing police officers need to do is being realistic and stop living in their bubbles of excellence. They should understand that the ineffectiveness of police stations under their command is their failure, that they should own and focus on fixing the real issues instead of perpetually advertising themselves. With true redressal of its problems, advertisement of the police force’s excellence and competence will simply take care of itself.
The writer is an engineer and author of a book on KP Police reforms. He tweets at @shazadk