Sympathy for the police

Posted in politics, Rights, society by jrahman on April 29, 2010

Towards the end of the last Awami League government, Zafar Iqbal wrote in Prothom Alo that big numbers (that government’s achievements like tackling to 1998 flood or the CHT Accord) multiplied by zero (worsening law and order problem, particularly because of actions of the partymen) is zero (eventual electoral defeat).  From the very beginning, observers have warned the current AL government the risks of this zero theory repeating itself.  I wrote about it here, discussed the country’s law and order problem  here, and called on the Home Minister to resign accepting failure.

Typically, discussions about the country’s law and order problem follow one of these routes: nothing good can come from our governments; it’s to be expected under an AL government; it’s the fault of anti-liberation forces; changing the Home Minister would solve the problem; and we need draconian measures like crossfires or military deployment.  The first three responses are bogus rhetoric that I am not going to even bother responding to.  But it’s striking that even serious and sincere people cling to the last two points, but don’t consider police reform.

Good folks at the International Crisis Group are an exception.  Last December, they published a report titled Bangladesh: getting police reform on track (Report 182, published on 11 Dec 2009).  It’s a sign of the apathy on this subject that the report hasn’t been noticed much in Bangladesh.  I would urge everyone to read the report, and contribute to a discussion on the subject in any way you can.

Over the fold, I provide some factlets from the report about the state of Bangladesh’s police forces.  It seems to be a miracle that Bangladesh is still functioning as a civilised society.  I still think Sahara Khatun should step down as Home Minister.  But I now want the replacement to be someone who will make police reform their top priority.  Without police reform, no amount of crossfire or militarisation will improve the law and order situation.

  • Bangladesh has roughly 123,000 policemen for over 153 million people.  This means there is one cop for 1,200 people.  The UN recommends one for every 450.  Bangladesh’s people per police ratio is the highest in South Asia.
  • Dhaka has one policeman per 520 people, Sylhet has one for every 3,500, while in Cox’s Bazaar the ratio is in 1:2,000.
  • Only 1.5% of the total force is female, compared with the 8.5% average for the low income countries.  And we wonder why crimes against women are on the rise.
  • Police are severely underfunded.  Consider this anecdote from an inspector from Rangpur:
A man came to me in the middle of the night andsaid that a murder had been committed in his village.It was my duty to investigate. I asked the man todrive me to his village because the station vehiclewas in disrepair; it had been broken for days and wehad no money to fix it. The villager didn’t have acar so we had to hire a taxi, which was a few hundredtaka. An autopsy had to be done on the body,and I had to take it to the morgue. But the driverrefused to put the body in his taxi. So, I then had topay – with my money – for another car, which wasanother few hundred taka. The coroner would notperform the autopsy on the corpse without some alcoholto drink. So I had to buy a few bottles for thecoroner. Then I had to pay the pay the dome for hiswork. In the end I had to spend Tk2000 or Tk3000($30 or 40) out of my pocket to do my job.
  • Police training procedures and curriculum have not changed much since the Raj.  Transfers to the police academy are considered punishment postings, and therefore instructor morale and quality are very low.  Only 0.06% of the already paltry police budget is for training.
  • Pay is very poor.  If a constable is to sustain himself and wife, they would be living on $1.30 a day, very close to the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.25 a day.
  • Working conditions are horrible.  Constables frequently work for 12-16 hours a day, but are not paid overtime.  Leaves are frequently denied.  Many sleep on trucks or police vehicles as there is a shortage of accommodation.
  • There is no transparency or meritocracy in promotion.  There is no bonus or performance pay.  Officers are transferred every couple of years, disrupting family lives.
  • And yet, in a country of millions of young men and not enough jobs, police posts attract serious bribery.  A constable or sub-inspector post costs Tk60-100,000.  An ASP gig costs Tk150-400,000.  During the BNP era, OC in a Dhaka police station used to sell for Tk 8 lakh.  These days, the going rater is Tk 15-20 lakh.
  • For most men, recouping this ‘investment’ is a higher priority than serving the public.  Corruption ensues.  A Dhaka patrol cop on a lucrative beat can get Tk 400-2000 a day extorting drivers and rickshawalllahs.  And senior officers routinely run extortion rackets.

Next time you are in a discussion about Bangladesh’s law and order problem, think about these facts about our police. How can we possibly expect things to get better unless the police force is reformed?  Unless any politician or pundit discuss police reform, their words about law and order are just empty rhetoric.  Anyone serious about law and order has to address the above facts.  The ICG report may not have all the answers, but it is as good a place as any to begin a discussion.

Tagged with:

9 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] (More at Mukti) […]

  2. fugstar said, on April 30, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Theres a more internal report from the 80s about police reform, erchad time, but still of value. i saw it floating around desh but the name eludes me. Would be good to feature it in the public sphere, i mean if qudrat e khuta can still be references wrt education…

    • jrahman said, on May 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm

      Fug, please do pass on the report if you come across it. A Deshi-generated report will be valuable in its own right.

  3. kgazi said, on May 1, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Last week a new law was passed by Jillur Rahman (Awami) President of BD, that if an ACC (anti-corruption commission) officer makes a false accusation against a politician, then the ACC guy will be sentenced 5 years in jail.

    With BD’s fake judiciary system, ANY accusation against an (awami) politician will be rendered FALSE by (awami) judiciary, therefore NO ACC man will dare to accuse a politician of corruption.

    Such is law&order and ‘democracy’ in BD, that instead of making law against corruption, the ‘democracy’ wallas make law against the ACC. Punish ACC first, then punish corruption.

    Same goes for police. Politicians prefer to keep their corruption rackets & mastan-bandits in operation, which is why they prefer NOT to upgrade police. Instead, they steal the police budget and warm thier own pockets.

  4. Unintended consequences « Mukti said, on July 1, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    […] in a future BNP government.  As a friend put it: maybe after this torture, Mahmud will the guy to fix our police.  And maybe Mobin will be the guy to restore BNP’s credibility to the world. […]

  5. সাতকাহন « Mukti said, on November 4, 2011 at 5:22 am

    […] – Bangladesh is safer than the neighbours.  (Also, see this and this). […]

  6. […] last wrote about police reforms over two years ago.  In the past two years, we have had a number of fairly high profile crimes […]

  7. Compared to what? « Mukti said, on June 27, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    […] can colour one’s perceptions.  Of course, the government hasn’t even bothered with police reform.  But again, that’s measuring the government against a hypothetical.  Is there any concrete […]

  8. সাতকাহন « Mukti said, on August 30, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    […] Finally, they’re talking about police reform.  (See this and […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: