Devolution of Police Powers

My one time colleague in the Police, Gamini Gunawardena is perhaps one of the few people in this country who has given deep thought to the question of devolution of police powers to the Provinces. With his years of police experience, admirable academic record and exposure to research on allied subjects in some of the most recognized institutions on policy studies he can be considered an authority eminently competent to discuss the pros & cons of devolution.

In his article entitled 'Rajitha Senaratne & devolution of Police powers in the Island Midweek Review of 8th July, he has inter alia, raised the concern. "And who will suffer? - the common man who never asked that Police Powers be devolved to the Chief Ministers. In fact they were never asked if they would like the idea & whether they thought it would solve whatever political problem they had."

Gamini has hit the nail on the head. What does the common man expect of the police? To put in a nut shell, the community expects an efficient police service to which the public can go to in distress; freedom from the fear of crime & the maintenance of public order. To provide these, the police have been given the necessary powers by law and the necessary resources by the state. The powers that Police enjoy as conferred on them by law to carry out police duties effectively and efficiently are the powers that are referred to as police powers.

The ability of the police to communicate with the citizens in a language that they understand is just another feature of police efficiency. What the Northerners & the Easterners have always been asking for is this. Any inputs or interventions from the Provincial Councils are certainly not required for this. The Government needs to take only a few meaningful steps to 'Tamilize' the Police stations in the areas where the majority speaks Tamil.

The interesting question is, what are the Police Powers that Chief Ministers are gleefully waiting to enjoy? The answer is - the power to boss over the Police. It is as simple as that. This is what every politician longs for in our part of the world, whether it be India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. To Chief Ministers a police that he could boss over will naturally become veritably his private police.

If devolution takes place, judging by the behaviour of politicians over the last 2 decades it can reasonably be presumed that police pilot vehicles, escorts and back up vehicles will become a nuisance even on by-roads and sleepy villages, underworld criminals and kasippu kings who support the Chief Minister will get police support, those who oppose the Chief Minister will be harassed by the police, bribery and indiscipline in the Police will be uncontrollable.

As Gamini has asked, who will suffer? Most certainly the common law abiding citizen. Devolution of police powers to the provinces? Ask the question at a national referendum. The answer will be an emphatic, 'No'. Only the Chief Ministers will say, 'Yes'! As the pithy Sinhala saying goes, it will be like giving a razor to a monkey!

Edward Gunawardena

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