Reforming Our Police Forces: We Owe This To Every Woman In Pakistan

Reforming Our Police Forces: We Owe This To Every Woman In Pakistan
Omer Imran Malik emphasises the urgent need to reform our police so that the women in our country do not get raped by the very men sworn to shelter them.

Key reforms suggested:

  1. Community Policing

  2. Gender Parity

  3. Psychological Evaluations

Read here why:

Very recently, a disturbing report came into the national limelight. In the early hours of May 16, 2019 a 22-year old lady was abducted and raped by 3 police constables of the Muhafiz Force of the Rawalpindi Police while on her way to have Sehri with a friend. Currently, the victim has recanted her allegations against the accused cops, allegedly due to a huge amount of pressure being exerted on her family.

Rawalpindi Police is still investigating the matter and has not released the accused as of yet. One can hope that the Rawalpindi Police Force continues to wisely investigate the accused and not allow compromises, caused by the unequal power relationship between the accused and the victim, come in the way of justice.

However, investigating and punishing the accused is not enough. The government needs to identify that there are certain institutional and structural flaws in our police forces which are at the root of the issue and these need to be addressed.

It is important for us to address these problems because incidents of sexual assault perpetrated by police forces have wide ranging public and social policy implications. They tend to have a far more detrimental effect on the life and liberty of ordinary citizens than sexual assaults committed by ordinary citizens. This is because police officers are the very persons entrusted to defend our liberties and uphold the law. If they are involved in such horrific acts, who would we trust?

Secondly, this incident of sexual assault by the members of the Muhafiz Force of the Rawalpindi Police Force in Pakistan is not an outlier; it is one of many instances. In the not too distant past a 15-year-old girl was raped by Islamabad police officials inside the Shehzad Town Police Station and a 17-year-old girl was gang raped by the police in Sialkot after she was recovered from a kidnapping.

Most recently, in Bahawalpur, a victim of gang-rape was raped by the ASI assigned to investigate her case when she was summoned for questioning.

Therefore the need of the hour is to reflect and come up with reforms which will reinvent our police into a safer, more accountable and more trusted force.

One important reform that can be addressed is localising who get to police our communities. Referring to the recent incident that took place in Rawalpindi, the Muhafiz Force is a specialised force which is deployed within the community with the aim of reducing street crime by patrolling roads, streets and setting checkpoints. However, under the current model of recruitment, since our police forces are drawn from various different cities, locales and towns, majority of the police posted in a city for community policing duty end up being non-local men who have no roots with the community they are policing.

These men are not sensitive to the modernity of the cities/locales they police and nor is there any social deterrent to stop them from abusing their power. Therefore, they cannot be expected to behave in a responsible fashion when policing our communities.

“The ideal of ‘community policing’ cannot be achieved through training only. It requires structural reform. We have to reimagine the police as an institution of local government for as long as the police remains a provincial subject it could continue to behave like an impersonal foreign occupying force.” Says Advocate High Court, Umer Ijaz Gillani.

Another important reform to address this problem would be improving the gender parity of police forces. A more woman inclusive police force, at both the top and bottom levels, would ensure that sexual violence, which is committed by mostly male officers against women, is reduced.

This can also be done in consonance of other policy changes, such as mandating the presence of a female officer during the search of a vehicle which has female occupants. These moves will create an internal oversight in the police and will deter male officers from abusing their power, reducing the chances of sexual assault and rape from happening.

Lastly, we can look at and borrow ideas from contemporary jurisdictions and the international community which are also combating this evil. Many US states have proposed radical measures such as the installation of GPS trackers on all police vehicles as this allows for real time monitoring of police mobile units and also deters police officials from misusing a police vehicle for such nefarious deeds.

In other areas of the world, police officials undergo mandatory psychological evaluations before they are inducted into the service and during the entire time that they serve as an officer, they must continue to have a healthy mental state. These psychological evaluations can be used to judge the person’s fitness for the role and to screen misogynists and sexual harassers.

The Police Order 2002 mandates the creation of two unique bodies, which are entrusted with ensuring our police forces do not become a public hazard. One is the National Public Safety Commission which can hear complaints against the police and ensure they do not overstep their bounds. Another is the National Police Management Board, which is in charge of advising the Federal and Provincial governments on the management and development of the burgeoning police forces in Pakistan.

Let us hope that the government empowers these statutory bodies and a dialogue on creative and courageous police reforms which tackle the deep, imbedded issues in our police forces can begin. We owe this to the 22-year-old woman who was betrayed by the very men sworn to shelter her from harm. We owe this to every woman in Pakistan.

The author is a Human Rights lawyer working at the Law and Policy Chambers in Islamabad, Pakistan and a member of the ‘Ab Aur Nahin’ collective. He tweets at @OmerImranMalik