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Police Torture: Reasons and Remedial Measures

Retired Inspector General (IG) Islamabad highlights the main reasons behind police torture and the mindset that allows and compels someone to torture someone. He further points out recommendations to be considered for a better structure of Police reforms. In the wake of Prime Minister's Police Reforms, This serves as a guideline for a better institution.

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Opinion |

During the days in the recent past, the news of Police torture and consequent deaths of some persons have been flashed in our social, print and electronic media, on which the Police has been perceived as a cruel and terrorist organization among the general public. Such nefarious activities of Police never can be justified however it is necessary to know the causes of Police torture.

There is the least personal interest of the Police personnel to perpetrate torture on criminals.

The main reason for Police torture is the pressure of senior Police officers on the junior officers such as Police Station Officers and Investigating Officers etc to control the increasing crimes mainly theft, robberies, and dacoities and in the case of their failure to halt the criminal activities, they are not only removed from their place of posting but also have to face departmental actions.

Resultantly, the Police officers make hectic efforts to trace out the robberies after rounding up the criminals on the basis of suspicion and subjecting them to the physical torture. At times, they are successful in working out the case but occasionally, as a result of physical tortures, the suspect meet to his death and the same senior officer suspends his joiner officer and the constables in his staff. The murder case is registered against them and they are locked up in the same Police station. In this way, the senior Police officer attempts to restore the image of Police in the sight of the public.

Another reason to perpetuate the physical torture on the suspects is to recover the stolen or extorted property. During my professional life of 36 years, I have seen a number of junior Police officers being dismissed from service languishing in the jails on their attempts for recovery of stolen property. The complainants of theft or dacoity cases are generally influential persons as the theft and robberies are mainly committed in the houses of opulent persons. The complainant approaches the senior Police officer, being thankful for the arrest of criminals of his case and praises his personal interest in the arrests.

The Police stations are a public place where every person can come freely to lodge his complaint even if it is about a very petty matter.

In the same breath, he complains that the investigating officer and the SHO are in league with the culprit who has been kept in the Police station as a guest. The investigating officer has only recovered half of the stolen ornaments and nothing has been recovered from the stolen cash amounting half a million rupees. He further complains that apparently the investing officer may have devoured his cash after recovery. The senior Police officer instead of sparing some of his time to examine the criminal to enquire about the quantity of recovery and to know about the impediments of recovery of remaining stolen property, he pressurizes the SHO or Investigating Officer and pass strict orders to make 100 % recovery at any cost.

Now, the criminal has to face more physical torture. The criminal had already spent the cash in merrymaking after the theft. He had sold the ornaments to the goldsmith so the recovery is impossible as the goldsmith has the active support of trader’s union and if the investigating officer pressurizes the goldsmith for recovery & stolen ornaments, the members of traders union approach the senior officer and make a complaint against the investigating officer. The senior officer instead of countering the trader association again pressurizes the investigating officer and SHO and blames them that they have in doused advised the ‘Association’ to approach him instead of making any recovery.

He threatens the investigating officer to face the music if recovery would not be made. Now, the investigating officer is between the devil and the deep sea. The criminal has already spent the stolen cash and he has no courage to recover the stolen ornaments from the goldsmith so he makes more physical torture on the criminal. He pressurizes the criminal to make full recovery and ask him to sell his household articles and arrange the amount to make the loss good.

The investigating officers also pressurize the family of the criminal to bring the amount equal to the stolen property to save their person from physical torture. The investigating officer sometimes succeeds in accomplishing his task but sometimes fails to make any recovery and occasionally, the criminal loses his life during physical torture.

It has been assessed on examining the postmortem reports of the deceased criminals that the death did not occur due to physical torture during the Police custody as marks of violence exist on dead bodies normally are not too severe to cause the death of the accused. Rather main cause of death is normally observed cardiac arrest, dysfunctional kidneys, and excessive depression. The criminal feels depression and anxiety due to the bad atmosphere of Police station, unhygienic lodging facilities for the criminals in dilapidated lockups and excremental condition of the Police stations.

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Some criminals start the crime due to their intense wish of using the narcotics. According to a survey, in Pakistan, about 700 habitual drug users meet their death in a day. Many habitual drug users involved in drug peddling resort to thefts and become the prey for Police. The Police officers are not so stupid that they perpetrates physical violence on the drug users who are already towards death. In fact, most of the Police station buildings, particularly the lockups are in such a bad condition that these are not fit for lodging the human beings.

The criminals are stuffed in the lockups more than capacity. Either there is no fan in the lockup or it is often out of order. In many stations, the electric supply has been disconnected due to nonpayment of the bill. In rural Police stations, there are long periods of power outages. The Policemen are also ignorant about the health conditions of the criminals even they do not know if some criminal is dehydrated due to non-provision of water. When the physical condition of a criminal is aggravating in the lockup, the “Sentry and Moharrir” do not know whether he has really fallen ill or making lame excuses.

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When the health of the criminal deteriorates, the Police officers serve him with just Panadol type medicine to break his fever and in case his condition does not improve, they call local quack or any friendly doctor. They are reluctant to shift the criminal to the hospital to avoid the media so that news may not be flashed about the torture of Police and imminent death of the criminal.

In the past, nobody got wind of the death of criminals except the Police station staff. The post of SHO was such influential that not a single person of Police station dare to act against the discretion of SHO. Either the dead body of the criminal was dumped stealthily or the relatives of the deceased criminal were made silence by influence and hush money. At that time the Police officers used to develop good relations with crime reporters of print media, therefore no such incident find vast coverage in the newspapers.

The Police stations are a public place where every person can come freely to lodge his complaint even if it is about a very petty matter. Now, the youngsters with a knack of using social media are coming in the Police force who are aware of the importance of social media but they are altogether ignorant about facts on the ground which compels the Police to take unlawful steps to console the aggrieved victims of thefts and dacoities.

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Most of the newly recruited Constables, Assistant Sub Inspector, and Sub Inspector are not deputed for the investigation of important cases due to their insufficient experience and these investigations are entrusted to the experienced Police officers, therefore such newly recruited and educated Police officers with intention to let down the veteran Police officers, make videos of the incidents of physical torture on their smartphones with dexterity and upload it on social media through their some friend.

Although there is no justification of Police torture but the general public viewing such videos cannot understand that the criminal who has been subjected to the physical torture has committed a horrible offense. He has either molested an innocent infant girl or he has stolen the ornaments of a bride arranged by her parents as a dowry on her marriage after saving hard money. At the very time, the physical torture of Police on the criminal is seen in the video but a common man does not know the terrible offense committed by that culprit.

We see the only one aspect in the video in which the criminal is facing violence, therefore we become sympathetic to the criminal and hateful towards the Police. In this way, a perception of hatred against Police is developed in our minds. It is also notable here that if the public knows that the violence has been perpetrated against a cruel rascal and unbridled person, a common man not only expresses pleasure on it but also he does not procrastinate to involve himself in violence against the criminal.

The restriction on keeping the phone by Police personnel is not appropriate because the public, informers and senior officers have to communicate with them.

During my professional life, I had seen many a time that when the Police take action against notorious criminal drug trafficker or land grabber to teach them a lesson, the public chanted slogans in favor of Police. It means that when Police take action against the bad elements, it is praised by the public but when the Police torture any innocent, weak and helpless person, the Police face hatred and wrath of public.

However, we should search the solutions keeping in mind the necessities of the modern age so that Police do not need to make physical torture on criminals and no death may occur in Police station or in Police custody.

First of all, it is most essential to train the Police officer to remain cool and not give in to anger against the criminal at a public place though he might have committed a heinous crime. The criminal often attempts to make obstruction on his arrest and sometimes grapples with the Police but every Police officer should know that violence on the criminal at a public place is not its solution. Rather, the official has lawful powers to arrest such criminals and also register a case against him on obstruction in official duty.

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However, when a person resorts to violence on the Police officer, Police official has been empowered lawfully to use necessary force to halt him. But, when a Police officer exceeds his lawful powers or attempts to take revenge from the criminal, he loses his moral standing and the image of Police in the eyes of the public, as the passersby did not know the facts. Every person is being influenced by that aspect of the incident which he sees and observes. If a person sees a Police officer committing violence on someone, he does make the video even if he is not aware of the actual cause behind the violence. Besides, the higher hierarchy in the Police Department should also assess the personality of a candidate during the process of recruitment whether he is fit for a Police job or not. He should undergo to the “Psychometric Test” to assess his attitudes about violence and ruthlessness.

As long as, the perpetration of physical torture is present in the Police station, the senior Police officers should make frequent visits to the Police stations and chat with the criminals under arrest and observe their physical condition so that the incidents of deaths by the torture can be minimized. For an Investigating Officer, it is necessary to beef the criminal under constant pressure during interrogation to get factual circumstances of a certain case but on the other hand, the Investigation Officer should be an expert of interrogation and possesses argumentative power to browbeat the criminal with logic. It needs intelligence and professional dexterity and an ample time to do so. The senior Police officers should brief constantly to their subordinates in this regard.

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Now the time has come that we should abolish the lockup system of the 18th century. In many offenses, more than one offender committed the crime and when all of them locked up at the same place, the investigating officer faces difficulties to interrogate them as they consult with each other and stick on one common reply on all points by making their minds that which is to be divulged and which is to be concealed before investigating officer.

Even if a sole accused is locked up, he too may warn his accomplices through the visitors of other criminals, therefore, besides a general lookup room, there should be a number of small cells where the criminals are kept separately for interrogation and recovery of stolen property. If such criminal is restricted to meet any visitor and is kept alone in his cell, fed to his heart fill and may not be allowed to sleep after having meals and the investigating officer go on interrogating him with professional means, I claim that the criminal will tell all of the facts within three days.

The reporting rooms of the Police station should be situated at the entrance and a separate room or a separate portion of a building can be specified for sitting arrangements of complainants. Instead of imposing restrictions on possession of cell phones, the complainants and visitors should not be allowed to visit that portion of the Police station where the criminals are kept or where they are being interrogated.

The senior officers instead of pressurizing the investigating officer should pursue the complainant to take interest in the trial against the accused in the court.

As a Police station is not like the other government offices, where the staff come to perform its duty only for 08 hours rather it is such an office where the Police staff also resides, therefore, the residential portion of the Police station should be separate from the portion where the criminals are kept. In the residential area, the Police staff can keep their cell phones with them. The restriction on keeping the phone by Police personnel is not appropriate because the public, informers and senior officers have to communicate with them. However, no one should be allowed to take the cell phone with them to the investigation cells and the lockups.

It is further suggested to depute a Medical Officer as “Human Right Officer” on 4/5 Police stations Inspector General of the provinces can obtain services of the doctors from the health department on a deputation basis. They should be provided with official conveyance and in case, no conveyance is available, they should be provided fuel for their personal cars. They are duty-bound to visit their respective Police stations. They will give medical treatment to the under arrest accused persons and advise the Police officers about the well being and treatment of the criminals and where ever they will see the violation of human rights, they should inform the concerned SP.

These Medical Officers or Human Rights officers make frequent visits of all Police Stations within eight duty hours in rotation. No separate office is necessary to establish for them. They may frame their report in the retiring room of the concerned SP. The official staff of SP should be duty-bound to help them in framing the reports.

The main cause of physical violence as mentioned at the beginning of the article is an attempt for recovery of stolen or robbed property from the criminal. The recovery is necessary due to two reasons: one of it is that the aggrieved person should be compensated with his deprived property and secondly the recovered property has to be produced as a piece of evidence during the judicial trial but the full recovery of the stolen property is an uphill task. However, the complainant pressurizes the investigating officer through various means for a full recovery of his stolen property so the investigating officer perpetrates more violence on the criminal as a result sometimes the criminal meets his death.

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The solution of this predicament is that the senior officers should not pressurize their subordinates unnecessarily, rather they should provide shield against the public pressure. It has also been observed that when a complainant receives full recovery of his property, he is no more interested in the punishment of a criminal. The senior officers instead of pressurizing the investigating officer should pursue the complainant to take interest in the trial against the accused in the court.

The complainant should be briefed that if he will support the prosecution case in the trial court, the relatives of the criminals will make efforts to compromise due to fear of punishment to the accused and for that purpose, they must have to make the loss good of the complainant. If the complainant sticks to his version in the court against the accused and the accused awarded punishment, he can institute a civil case against the criminal for recovery of his stolen property.

We should also motivate the opulent persons to get their property insured. If the public becomes accustomed to getting insured their valuables and in case of loss or theft use to claim money equivalent to their property from an insurance company, they will not use their influence upon police for the recovery of their stolen articles and in this way chances of deaths of accused by Police torture would be minimized. Furthermore, the amendments should be made in Qanoon-e-Shahadat order 1984 that partial recovery from a criminal also deems to be admissible evidence as full recovery is admissible before the eyes of the law.

In my view, these steps can minimize Police torture and not only save the lives of many persons but increase the image of Police before the public.

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

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