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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Covid-19: Pakistan Police on the frontlines

If you want lockdown to be intact, safety precautions to be followed, people to be disciplined, and food and medicines to be supplied, then Police should be your go-to organization. Mr. Tahir Alam Khan, an ex IGP Islamabad explains how the police could be utilised in the fight against Covid-19.

Police is an old and important institution whose main task is the maintenance of law and order across the country. Pakistan Police consists of around 2000 police stations and 450,000 police personnel. These personnel are deployed in each village and Mohalla and designated as beat incharges.

As local bodies in our country remain ineffective, mostly due to political reasons, the police can provide better delivery in the prevailing Covid-19 crisis. But before that, we need to organize its functions in an appropriate manner, tailor-made for dealing with Covid-19. Nevertheless, the police is already performing most of the duties, which will be mentioned in this article at a later stage. The need of the hour is that they should be performed sincerely in a systematic and organised manner, by utilising and readjusting all its resources.

Read more: Pakistan desperately needs Police reforms

Covid-19: How can the police help?
  • The police could help in the implementation of lockdown, maintenance of safety precautions, keeping people disciplined, ensuring social distancing measures are being followed and supplies of food and medicines are abundant.
  • Police can also help in crowd management by closing down public places and preventing people from assembling.
  • Police is essential for maintaining law and order by preventing crimes such as looting, arson and vandalism.
  • Along with the district administration, the police could ensure that ration supply and monetary compensation granted by the government reaches deserving people.
Improving capacity of the police 

The police have many branches and departments at the provincial, regional and district level. Whereas, a large number of policemen, including inspectors, DSPs, ASPs and senior-level officers, perform additional functions other than operational or field duties.

Several police officers are not performing active duty as they are Officers on Special Duty (OSD) in establishment division or at Provincial Headquarters. Similarly, officers of DSP ranks are not performing active duty, and are stationed at central police offices in their respective provinces.

Since these are special circumstances, and the crime rate all over the country has rapidly decreased, the police should divert its utmost attention towards eliminating the hazards created by Covid-19, including helping government institutions, NGOs and volunteers of Tiger Force for smooth and just distribution of aid to the needy persons. They could also help in the recognition of needy persons who have failed to gain financial assistance through the ‘Ehsaas’ program.

For this purpose there exists a need to reorganize police at not only the provincial and divisional level, but also at the district level. It should be clarified that the arrangements proposed should only remain in place during this crisis.

Read more: Reforming the police in Pakistan: A Utopian Dream

Restructuring the police to fight Covid-19

1. Every region of the police should be commanded by an officer of the rank of Additional IG, and not the DIG. The Additional IG’s can be spared easily as per the requirement from different sub-departments and organizations of police. Once the Additional IG is appointed to a region of the police, the DIG already in place, will not be removed, rather he would become his second in command and both will work together from the same office.

2. Every district commanded by an SSP rank officer may be commanded by a DIG. However, an SSP officer may be appointed in a district where SP is already posted as District Police Officer/Distt. Superintendent. The already posted SSP and SP will not be relieved, rather, they will become their second in command.

3. Every subdivision/circle of police, which is nowadays commanded by a DSP or an ASP, may be commanded by a BPS -18 ranked SP, and the already posted DSP/ASP will not be removed, instead, both will work from the same office.

4. With regards to the police station, which is the most important and pivotal institute of the police, it is suggested that a DSP or an ASP be posted as the SHO of the police station, who will supervise four additional SHOs of inspector rank. As these are special circumstances, therefore, we should try our best to post local officers in their respective areas or in areas where they have acquaintances. Because, an officer with established contacts is the most suitable man in the prevailing circumstances.

5. Presently, every police station has a Station House Officer (SHO), an Additional SHO and an in-charge of investigation branch. Since the crime rate has decreased, attention should be shifted towards curbing Covid-19. Therefore, establishing an effective system of policing is the need of the hour.

In my opinion, there should be four additional SHOs with the rank of Inspector, under the command of the SHO (DSP/ASP) in every police station in the following way:

i) Additional SHO Crime and Security, tasked with preventing and investigating crimes. Visiting crime scenes and managing patrolling activities will be his responsibility. Security-related issues of the area will also be included in his ambit.

ii) Additional SHO Anti-Corona, who will perform the duty of ensuring the implementation of lockdown. He will be responsible for the enforcement of safety precautions and discipline among the customers and employees at stores and factories, which are exempted from the lockdown by the government. Moreover, this additional SHO and his subordinates will also be instrumental in curbing price hike and hoarding. They will assist officers of the District Administration in taking legal action against such criminals.

iii) Additional SHO Crowd Management will manage unruly mobs and crowds in his area of duty. However, in the case of hooliganism, looting, arson and vandalism during riots, the armed and semi armed forces will be called for assistance. It is possible that the shortage of food could exacerbate poverty. This may force people to carry out acts of arson and looting. For this purpose, district administration and police will remain in full coordination with armed and semi armed forces and make different types of contingency plans to counter any untoward incident.

iv) Additional SHO Coordination & Welfare will work towards ensuring ration supply and financial aid to needy persons under the guidance of concerned Assistant Commissioner (AC), Magistrates and Tehsildars. He may also coordinate & supervise the activities of Tiger Force Volunteers. He will also be tasked with conducting a survey to locate needy families who fall within the jurisdiction of his police station.

All the beat incharges of the police station in their respective area of beat, will be under the command of Additional SHO coordination and welfare. His position would be strengthened by utilising the now defunct police training centers and colleges. Under the guidance of his SHO (DSP) and SP, he will develop his intelligence network with the help of his beat incharge and other resources at his behest.

He and his staff will keep close liaison with the community for the collection of information about deserving families. He will not only assist the Tigers Force, NGOs and government functionaries in their relief work, but also provide information relevant to their duty, through concerned Assistant Commissioner.

Additional steps to manage the pandemic

For dealing with this pandemic effectively, steps mentioned below are also suggested:

A. Above mentioned arrangements require an increase in strength of police personnel at the lower-level whereas, amid limited exchequer government could not provide additional financial resources. Therefore, it is suggested that police should at least be allowed to fill its vacant posts for which no extra-budgetary resources are required.

However, the recruitment process will take a considerable time to complete. At this stage recruitment is not advised, provided that large scale assembling of people, would put many lives at risk, amid the pandemic. But there exists a solution. Every year millions of youngsters apply for the post of Constable in every district of Pakistan. Among them, few succeed after fulfillment of all the requirements. When they finally appear in interviews, most are not appointment due to the limited number of posts. Previous list of successful candidates for the posts of Constables of every district is available according to the order of merit.

It is convenient for the government to allow police to recruit constables from the list of previous recruitment, and that too, according to the order of merit. Similarly, Punjab Police has requested Punjab Public Service Commission for the recruitment of about 500 sub-inspectors against vacant posts. The PPSC can select the candidates against sub-inspector posts from the previous list — where details of successful candidates is readily available.

B. Another issue is that officers of the District Administration require some powers designated to magistrates. How can an Assistant Commissioner prevent hoarding, price hike and crimes such as adulterating of food and medicine, without those powers? Therefore, provincial governments should empower officers of the District Administration. In Islamabad, the administration could award punishments as per law on the spot. This is essential in these extraordinary circumstances.

C. Considering that additional officers and junior employees will be appointed, there will be a requirement for additional houses and offices. Towards that end, it is suggested that such policemen could be adjusted in schools or marriage halls and the officers in hotels that are adjacent to their respective police stations.

D. Similarly, to meet the requirement of vehicles for additional officers and SHOs; vehicles of government officers that are presently off-duty, may be utilised.

Read more: Naya Pakistan: PTI government finally works on reforming Punjab Police

Lastly, the aforementioned suggestions could be made more comprehensive and workable through consultations between IGs and other relevant officers of the police.

Tahir Alam Khan is the former Inspector-General (IG) of Police (Retired), Islamabad. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space