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Sunday, 8 January 2012

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No political influence in investigations – Police Chief

*Six Tamil Language teaching centres have been established

*Bribe - taking will not be tolerated

The Sri Lanka Police with over 82,000 men are not bound by any political influence in their investigations and are committed to bring justice to the people, the Inspector General of Police N.K. Illangakoon said adding that the Department has implemented several programs to build the trust between people.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Observer the Police Chief said the Police would not tolerate suspects being tortured in Police stations when they are being interrogated. Police officers guilty of torturing suspects will be severely dealt with, he said.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: A ‘road map’ to revive the police system was distributed among police stations some time ago. Why was it not implemented?

A: It was prepared four years ago. We have to review the concept before implementing it.

A committee will be appointed to study the concept, which has guidelines including crime detection, crime prevention, professional investigations, traffic management and police administration.

Q: Is the Police geared to cater to the needs of the people?

A: Yes of course. When you compare Sri Lanka with other countries, where a prolonged conflict has prevailed, the post scenario is significant.

This goes beyond law and order, in those countries. As for Sri Lanka we have coped well.

Several measures have been taken to improve the quality of the Police service to face the situation in a post-conflict era.

For over three decades, the Police was involved in security duties and could not attend to normal tasks. Over 18,000 policemen, who were recruited to serve in the North and East, have now been selected for training to maintain a rapport with the people.

The Department has already started training courses for OICs. During this three-months residential training they are given training on crime detection, computer literacy and language programs.

The Police Department is confident that the officers can provide a better service as they are trained.

Q: Now there seems to be a sharp increase in crime. Can you attribute the reason for this?

A: This is not an abnormal situation. When crimes take place it indicates that normalcy prevails.

In the North we didn’t hear of crimes earlier, but now some criminal cases have been reported and this shows that life there is normal. Now criminals have come out. Even in the South it is the same.

But the good news is that the situation is under control. Statistics of 2010 to 2011 shows that there is no significant reduction in the crime rate, this is due to the efficiency in crime detection.

There were weapons in circulation and people were soon after a war mentality. Maintaining law and order was a huge task but police officers achieved the required target to control crime in the country.

Q: Though the Department advocates a people-friendly Police, people fear to walk into a police station. How will you maintain a rapport with the public?

A: It is vital for policemen to maintain a rapport with the people to maintain law and order. Policemen are trained and we have taken important steps to improve skills and maintain rapport. Civil Defence Committees were designed and implemented for this purpose. Such committees, have a good relationship with the people and were established in 430 police stations including the North and East.

Police Advisory Committees in each division have been set up with the participation of respected people from these areas. Any complaint against the Police can be directed to these committees.

Looking into complaints, except grave crimes within 48-hours has been implemented in most Police stations. All Police stations, equipped with modern facilities will adopt this method. A major reason to lose faith in the police is because of the inordinate delay in investigations.

Meet Nugagaha Kapalle Illangakoon

The young Mathematics and Social Science teacher of Hambegamuwe Maha Vidyalaya, Thanamalwila had no option but to obey the request of his older brother. Graduating from the University of Colombo in 1979, he got his first teaching appointment in Thanamalvila.

Meanwhile, with no specific childhood dreams, Illangakoon studied hard while excelling in sports at Udagama Maha Vidyalaya, Balangoda.

Being the youngest in the family of five, Illangakoon’s mother didn’t want her youngest son to join the Police force, though his older brother was insisting that he should become a police officer. Fate gave the final nod to his brother’s decision and in 1982 he joined the Police Department as a Probationary Assistant Superintendent of Police.

“I couldn’t escape from my brother. He compelled me to fill the application that he had brought and join the Police”, the Police Chief said.

As an Assistant Superintendent of Police, Illangakoon got his first appointment as ASP in-charge of the Kurunegala District. He served in Jaffna, Ampara and Batticaloa as Area Commander and shares the credit of establishing the Police Special Task Force (STF). Going up the ladder, he was promoted as SSP in 1994.

He served as senior DIG in charge of the Western Province, Support Services, Crimes Range and Narcotic Bureau Range, Discipline and Conduct, Transport and Communication, Welfare, Special Investigation Unit and Police Legal Range and Administration.

He assumed duties as the 33rd IGP, six months ago. He recalled the two deadly incidents where he survived the LTTE’s landmine explosions. It was on May 20, 1985 when he was leading his convoy of four jeeps from Batticoloa to Thoppigala, to prevent the LTTE escaping into the jungles after attacking the Police base at Polonnaruwa-Manampitiya bridge. “While we were reaching towards Thoppigala we tried to communicate with the STF team, which laid an ambush operation in the wee hours of that day but failed to contact them. As we felt they were in trouble, I decided to assist them. But suddenly two men came on push bicycles knocked our jeeps and ran in two directions. we followed them but they disappeared into the jungles”, IGP Illangakoon said.

The STF team commenced their mission. His deputy who said he knew the direction to the jungles took the lead voluntarily. “From that moment we couldn’t move even 100 metres. The jeep with Inspector Gunasinghe and his team was blown into smithereens within five minutes. I was in the second jeep and I jumped out and my jeep exploded in the second landmine, a minute later. We lost eight STF officers. I don’t know how I escaped, it was a miracle”, the Police Chief said.

He believes more in his horoscope after an astrologer’s remarks about his escape and also his prediction of another landmine explosion. He said one’s horoscope is a true account of one’s life. “ The astrologer, who was reluctant to believe that I am alive said my horoscope indicates two ‘marakas’ (fatal incidents)”, IGP Illangakoon said.

Spending time with his children is his satisfaction and listening to music helps him to relax and get rid of stress.The busy Police Chief answers and attend to calls from the public who directly dial his number seeking justice. “Oh...how many calls I get daily from various people who seek my help. Anyone is free to call me”, he said. Born and bred in a Buddhist family in Pinnawala, Balangoda, IGP Illangakoon doesn’t says he is not a tough Police Chief, but is a tough disciplinarian. “Every Poya Day I go to the temple, but my busy work schedule prevents me from observing Sil. Once I give up my uniform, I will engage in religious activities”, the soft-spoken Police Chief who wants his men to be more people friendly, said.

The Department has sought the assistance of the Scottish Police College to start Community Policing programs to train policemen. Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organisational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime. Community Policing is comprised three key components; Community Partnerships, Organisational Transformation and Problem Solving.

Under this program the British Scottish Police College is conducting Rs.68.3 million worth of training programme on Community Policing for the Police officers and they will train others later. Nearly 150 police officers, including Assistant Superintendents and 26 trainers from all 9 Provinces have undergone training.

Q: Most suspects were subject to torture and human rights activists were up in arms against human rights violations in Police stations. What is your comment? Are you intending to bring changes in interrogating suspects?

A: No, I vehemently refute this allegation. No suspect is subjected to torture in Police stations. Maybe this allegation is about the situation some years ago. We do not tolerate torture in any police station in the country and the Department has laid down tough measures to punish Police officers who torture during interrogation.

However, a person can lodge a complaint that he was subject to torture. He can complain when he is produced before a doctor, then when he is produced before the Magistrate within 24-hours of being taken in for questioning and after he is released, he can go before the Human Rights Commission and lodge a complaint.

In the recent past there are no such allegations against police officers. The situation has vastly improved with training and also by recruiting well educated youth as policemen. They are also given courses on human rights to support their duties with the people.

The best example of punishing policemen for torturing suspects is the Angulana double homicide, where the OIC of the Angulana Police and three other police officers were sentenced to death.

Q: Reconciliation among communities is the main task of the government. How will the Police contribute towards this effort? What would be the task of the Police in the Post-conflict era?

A: Policemen have a huge role to play in reconciliation. They are one of the main links between communities which can successfully bridge the gap.

The main barrier is the language as a majority of Policemen are not conversant in Tamil.

The Police Department was one State institution where there was a demand from the Tamils to join. But during the past 30 years, Tamils didn’t join.

A major grievance of the Tamils was that institutions lack Tamil-speaking officers to deal with their problems.

Even before the end of the conflict, the Department was contemplating to commence Tamil Language courses for Police officers. We have recruited 660 Tamil Police officers to serve in the North and East. Another 350 Tamils will join the Police Department by the end of this month and we will continue the recruitment drive according to the demand.

Six Tamil Language teaching centres have been established to teach 1200 police officers for six months.

The first batch consisted of 1,200 police officers who have successfully completed learning the Tamil language and are now deployed in the North and East. The second course for 600 police officers will commence in the middle of this year. The police can win the hearts of the Northern people with effective public relations.

Q: Unlike other public servants, Police officers are noted for taking bribes. Especially the traffic police. How do you plan to restore its reputation?

A: There are two sides to this issue. According to existing laws, offering and accepting bribes are offences.

The public encourage policemen to accept bribes. This doesn’t mean that Police officers should accept bribes and the Police Department does not tolerate policemen who take bribes. We will take disciplinary action against them.

However, during training programs we educate them on this aspect and the punishment in store if they are found accepting bribes.

Q: In countries like Japan, a police officer is paid three times more than a public servant. But in Sri Lanka a constable gets a basic salary of Rs. 14,500 monthly. Most of the officers are poorly paid compared to the other forces. Are there any plans to increase salaries and welfare programs?

A: This aspect is for the government to consider. Yes, I agree that policemen are paid lower salaries than those in the three Armed Forces. But this is no reason to take bribes. I tried to address this issue. The traffic cops will be given rewards according to performance.

The rewards will be doubled accordingly. Efficiency will be rewarded. This system has been applicable to police officers who handle criminal investigations.

We have instructed all Police divisions to give monthly rewards to those who excel in their duties.

Q: Now, the police play a major role in restoring law and order in the provinces. To what extent is the Police getting the support from the Tamils in the North and East as most of them might be seeing a policeman for the first time.

A: Earlier many Tamils joined the police and Sinhalese police officers who served in the North and East married Tamils. Of late no Tamil person has joined the police Department.

The Department has taken significan’t steps to improve rapport between the Tamils and the police. In the North and East, the police are now building a rapport with the people. A request has been made for more Tamils to join the police.

Q: A majority of ex-LTTE cadres are back after rehabilitation. There was a plan to recruit them into the police service. Can they join the police?

A: If they are qualified - educationally and physically - they are eligible to apply to join the Police.

At the same time the Department needs a clearance from rehabilitation authorities about their conduct after undergoing rehabilitation. The doors are open for them to become officers.

Q: Some senior officers including IPs and CIs are frustrated as promotions to the ranks from IP to CIs and CI to ASP have not been made since 2006. Why is there a delay and how are you going to restore this?

A: The reason for this issue was the conflict. Before that the Police had a cadre system and the system was followed.

The Police Department had to deviate from the system to fulfil ground requirements because of the conflict.

The cadre system had to be put to the backburner as the Department needed to recruit people to maintain law and order at that time.

The promotion system changed and we could not follow the stipulated system. For example, an Assistant Superintendent of Police was in-charge of four stations, but due to the conflict we had to appoint an ASP to each police station.

Now the system has to be restored. Over 200 Inspectors who have completed eight years as Chief Inspectors are now waiting to get promotions but we don’t have cadre vacancies.

Q: Some of these officers have requested for promotions soon or to permit them to retire after 22 years in service. Are you considering this request?

A: Yes, we are aware of the situation and the Department is in the process of solving the problems soon.

The Inspectors Association has requested early retirement if there are no promotions but I am trying my best to keep them in the service rather than granting them retirement.

Q: There is a feeling that the police is not acting impartially in cases where ruling politicians are involved e.g. the Bharatha Lakshman killing and the Sampath Vidanapathirana (Tangalle case).

Is there a situation where the Police can’t act impartially to take action against ruling party politicians?

A: I strongly refute this allegation and this is a wrong impression about the police. If someone can point out a single incident where investigations were overlooked due to political pressure I will answer.

The latest incident where the Police acted promptly was the Tangalle incident. As the Police Chief I would reiterate that no politician can influence police investigations and we would not act according to any politician. Police officers would do justice to the people as we are responsible to bring justice to them.

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