Police Service: Challenges & Reforms

A public-policy expert examines what the government needs to do to make the police a vanguard of change for Pakistan to enter the 21st century.

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In Pakistan, the words “police” and “reforms” seldom feature in the same sentence. In fact, most Pakistanis would say that they are the antithesis of each other: one tied inexorably to a known but dark past, the other, by definition, points towards a time filled with uncertainty but not without a tinge of hope.

Herein lies the rub: as Pakistan slowly stumbles towards social and economic reformation, the very state institutions which ought to be in the vanguard of change are, instead, holding it back by their inability to adapt quickly enough to realities of the 21st century.

One of the defining characteristics of the modern era is the dizzying pace of change with which countries and societies have transformed themselves. In most modern countries, social and state institutions have evolved to adapt themselves to the changing scenario and therefore maintained their relevance.

In Pakistan too changes in the social and political realm are palpable. However, for a number of reasons, our state institutions remain stuck in the past. This is perhaps as much true for the police in Pakistan, as it is for any other organization or institution in the country.

Improve counter-terrorism laws by incorporating specific provisions for the protection of witnesses and victims, admissibility of evidence and introduction of new methods of conducting trials with due regard to security and human rights considerations.

It is indeed not only possible, but also absolutely necessary for our vital state institutions, such as the police, to shed their colonial legacy and metamorphose into something a modern inclusive nation can live with and be proud of. If this nation can create a modern responsive organization such as “the Motorway Police”, why can we not, with sufficient commitment and will, bring about a transformation in the mainstream police?

Policing refers to a function of governance responsible for the prevention, detection, and investigation of crime; protection of persons and property; and the maintenance of public order and safety. Due to its geostrategic location, the issues of policing in Pakistan are very complex and have developed a linkage with the country’s internal and external environments.

Policing is a provincial subject, each of the federating units has its own police force. Be that as it may, all of the police forces which currently exist in the country, save the “National Highways and Motorway Police”, have been conceived and raised under the erstwhile federally promulgated Police Act of 1861.

Thus, small differences notwithstanding, the various forces exhibit a commonality of structure and function that allows us, for academic purposes, to speak of them as one force – the “Pakistan police”. The challenges Pakistan police faces today are numerous, multi-dimensional and complex bordering on intractable.

Some of these are largely internal to the organization as it has evolved at this point in time, while others are largely extraneous and linked to the political economy of the country and the values and ethos of the larger society.

Read more: PM Imran looks to bring sweeping reforms at local government level

Poor Community Relations

Despite the formal change of legal framework with the promulgation of the Police Order 2002, which imposes on it the duty to function in line with democratic traditions, law, constitutional provisions and hopes and aspirations of the people, the police remain set in their old ways.

From the viewpoint of the citizens, the police are steeped in, what’s derogatorily referred to as, the infamous “Thana Culture” – with a clear disconnect between the organization and the community which it purports to protect and serve.

Police Operations cover critical aspects of a police organization including policies, institutional arrangements, business processes and resources for the performance of police officers’ main functions.

The second aspect of the Police-Community troubled paradigm encapsulated by the term Thana Culture is the police’s use of force and other coercive measures in an arbitrary and whimsical manner, usually in complete disregard to the actual operational needs of that particular situation.

Whether this use of force occurs as part of interrogations, during raids on hideouts of criminals or other establishments, at so-called police naakas or check points or when confronting public agitation, police’s use of force is arbitrary, excessive and sadistic – designed to torture or punish rather than to bring the situation under control.

Poor Service Delivery

Closely linked to the Thana Culture is the view that the police lack the ethos required of an agency mandated to assist the public at times of great stress. For example, the public believes that the police do not easily register criminal cases, when a citizen falls victim to a crime, especially in property cases such as robbery or loss of vehicle, etc.

Given that citizens usually approach it during times of stress, the insensitivity exhibited by the police angers the citizen more than would be the case if similar equally callous behavior emanated from another less consequential agency. The perception that the police is a tool in the hands of the politicians and vested interests, especially for the sitting government of the day, further negatively aggravates public perception of the police force both in terms of community relations as well as service delivery.

Read more: New Baluchistan CM to reform police force

Policing by Coercion rather than by Consent

The historical baggage of many decades of policing by coercion rather policing by consent, shapes the mindset and conduct of the current officers of the police as well as the public. In any volatile situation, police act as the “enforcer of the writ of the state” and therefore has to bear the brunt of the people’s ire towards the controlling authority. Police’s role becomes very difficult given that the idea of a peaceful protest is alien to Pakistani political culture.

Public Order Handling

Among many different other areas, poor professionalism in police officers is reflected in the way they fail to manage their core duties. These include dealing with routine public order situations, using a disproportionate amount of force or failure to apply force when required.

It is not uncommon to see even minor protests, such as a gathering of a relatively small number of visually-impaired persons, dealt with in such a heavy-handed manner that police action itself becomes news, rendering the original protest secondary news.

Administrative Systems

Another area where the lack of professionalism of the police department is very obvious is in relation to the administrative systems deployed by the police. This includes poor management of records and inadequate capacity in planning and implementing budgetary, procurement and logistics cycles.

This failure has implications for police’s ability towards effective planning and implementation, sustainability and accountability. Same is the situation on police capacity to conduct planning, designing and implementation of the budget.

Women police taking photos with mobile phone during 1st passing out parade at Police Recruitment Center Hyderabad.
Police Operations

The word “operations” here is used in the general sense whereas the word is used in police literature to include all core policing areas including the provision of security, investigation, crime prevention etc. Police Operations cover critical aspects of a police organization including policies, institutional arrangements, business processes and resources for the performance of police officers’ main functions.

The SOPs on administering arrest, performing search and seizure operations, managing public order situations, establishing checkpoints, carrying out investigations, conducting internal security operations and performing other policing duties have neither been professionally developed nor implemented in their true spirit.

Consequently, there is a huge gap between what is written in criminal law and what is being practiced on ground. The police officers are not sufficiently trained to carry out lawful searches or to preserve and process the crime scene or even record appropriate witness statements.

It is no wonder then that despite the availability of some good facilities, such as the modern Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) and Punjab Forensic Science Laboratory, police remain unable to take considerable advantage of the same.

Read more: Are KP police capable of fighting terror and crime?

Poor Human Resources Management

There are serious issues regarding recruitment, training, placement and promotions. The absence of a transparent and accountable system of placement especially of provincial police officers has seriously affected the efficiency, effectiveness and morale of police officers as recent instance has been experienced in Pakpattan DPO fiasco.

Moreover, training is not geared to produce individuals who can perform complex policing jobs as per requirements contemporary policing. Disregard of merit results in disillusionment, heart-burning, and poisoned work environment, with very often clear groupings amongst the police colleagues emerging along fault lines such as PSP versus provincial officers, the “well-connected” (field officers) versus the “disgruntled” (desk officers) etc.


Based upon the foregone analysis and conclusions, the following recommendations are offered which are specific and can be implemented in a relatively short and medium term time.

  • Necessary institutions aimed at ensuring community participation in police functions like Public Safety Commissions, and bodies set up for conducting accountability of police, i.e., Police Complaints authorities should be established at appropriate levels.
  • Furthermore, necessary amendments are required in CrPC, PPC and Qanun-e-Shahadat Order to resolve issues of FIR registration, and acceptance of modern forensic evidence as primary evidence during trial.
  • Likewise, the plethora of laws, which exist in an unsystematic and untraceable manner should be unified, purged of potential mutual contradictions and codified for the easy, uniform and effective application.
  • Genuine community policing at all levels should be implemented and encouraged. For this purpose, resources are needed to be dedicated for the establishment of Citizen Police Liaison Committees at various levels, having a representation of civil society, academia, and human rights activists along with a meaningful representation of women. This should be addressed as a matter of priority.
  • Improve counter-terrorism laws by incorporating specific provisions for the protection of witnesses and victims, admissibility of evidence and introduction of new methods of conducting trials with due regard to security and human rights considerations.
  • Formulate a comprehensive counter-terrorism policing strategy to effectively prevent and detect terrorism cases and develop institutional linkages between provincial police forces and NACTA. The strategy should incorporate provisions for functional integration of investigative aspects, the creation of investigation branches on professional lines with state of the art equipment and training of staff by specialized trainers.
  • Insulate police from political interference and ensure postings, transfers and recruitments solely on merit. Consider empowering either the public safety commissions or establishing new mechanisms or institutions to ensure non-interference in police human resources management areas. Dedicate resources for establishment of an effective welfare system for police personnel including provisions related to availability of housing and medical and educational facilities for their families.
  • Decentralize police governance and devolve decision making to middle and lower levels to improve service delivery and to ensure effective and efficient decision making at the local levels.
  • Develop an “Operational Procedures Manual” to guide police in the performance of their critical operational functions including on: interviewing witnesses, collecting evidence, making an arrest, conducting search and seizure operations, preparation of investigation files, liaison with prosecutors, management of public order and disaster situations etc.
  • Revamp Human Resources Management System by developing merit-based, transparent and affordable recruitment and promotion criteria and procedures; posting of officers on different positions based on relevant competencies, skills, and experience ensuring the security of tenure of key police officers. Undertake a comprehensive training needs assessment to determine the training needs of police personnel in terms of effective public order management, serious crime, organized crime, and terrorism investigations and intelligence-led operations.
  • Through establishment of police integrated command, control and communication centres across the country like Punjab i.e. PPIC3 (Punjab Police Integrated Command, Control and Communication Centers), infuse technology into all police working aspects: managing human resources, monitoring public space, responding to emergency calls, identifying key crime hotspots, collection of evidence from crime-scene, establishing real-time inter-connectedness with other stakeholders and departments, etc. and last but not the least, meaningful steps are needed to bring the percentage of female officers up to at least 10% leading to 15% in the next five years.

Saud Bin Ahsen is associated with a Public Policy Think Tank Institute and is a Public Administration & Economics graduate from Punjab University & GCU Lahore. He is interested in Comparative Public Administration, Post-Colonial Literature, and South Asian Politics. He can be reached at saudzafar5@ gmail.com.

The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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