Sri Lanka Police at 151: EMPOWERED TO ENFORCE THE LAW | Sunday Observer


Pix: Marlon Karunaratne
Pix: Marlon Karunaratne

Living in crime free societies is a global concern today. The police service is the manifestation of the law and government authority, whose officers must maintain law and order with equality to all. In today’s digital domain and new criminal trends upholding the law becomes a challenging task. After jubilantly celebrating 150 years in 2016 the police service has many aspirations for the future. The police has endured a long journey of trials, tragedies and triumphs in its service to our nation.

Origins in Ceylon

For centuries the people of ancient Ceylon lived in relative peace, with the occasional petty theft. As these mild incidents rose to the next level of criminal intent the Colombo Municipality began to hire some guards to patrol the streets at night. The office of the Fiscal found it difficult to enforce the law. The Governor Fredric North initiated some bold steps to redefine the fiscal service and demarcated Colombo in 15 zones: which we still use today as postal codes. The first three stations set were at Fort, Pettah and Kaymans gate (present Main Street).Fredric North made an urgent request to the Governor of Bombay to recommend an officer who could begin to restructure the police constables.

Thus W.R.Campbell was sent to Ceylon as the first Superintendent of Police and he began official duties on 3 September 1866. During the course of 1867 the first Police headquarters was set up at Maradana- where the police station operates to date (Police headquarters was relocated in 1932 to Fort). Subsequently the Criminal Investigation Department was established in 1870. In 1916 the constables got their first .22 rifles. The stables were opened in Pettah in 1920 and the horses were first used for the purpose of official transport for senior officers. Richard Aluvihare became the first Sri Lankan IGP in 1947. He is solemnly remembered for two things - recruiting female cadres for the first time and also setting up the police kennels division.

Rising to meet challenges

Our motherland has been assaulted with spells of insurgency and domestic terrorism. Hence the police had to maintain momentum and introduce new units and divisions. The Special Task Force (STF) was set up in 1983 and today excels at counter terror operations and VVIP security and can boast of its own SWAT team. In 2004 responding to public need the 119 Emergency Police Unit was put into motion and responds to numerous emergencies.

In the same year the Judicial Security Division (JSD) was formed to protect judges and magistrates. As the population grew in Colombo city and terror threats were eminent the CCTV Division was set up in 2007 and they continue their silent digital surveillance of the city. A police team of the STF is trained to maintain law and order and respond to accidents on the expressways. Another positive initiative was reopening and building new police stations in the Northern Province, bringing the civilians closer to the police. At present there are 484 police stations (with 87 A-grade stations) operating in Sri Lanka.

Forward March

Whilst tremendous reforms have been done there remain many areas of improvement. Traffic management and road safety remains a vital issue in all major cities. Enforcing safe and courteous driving amongst motorists- especially private buses and three wheelers must be efficiently and effectively addressed.

Police Headquarters has new plans to increase the Crime Prevention Rate. Today all criminal records are computerized and finger prints are automated. The Community Police service has spread its arms to reach out to all citizens. However the attitudes and mindsets of some police personnel (mainly sergeants and constables) needs to change- understanding the importance of a good rapport with the public in order to build crime free societies.

Emphasis must be placed on the concept of predictive policing. It is disdainful to see a few senior officers violating the law, thereby tarnishing the good work done by thousands of their colleagues.

The service must be given credit for gender equality with women officers being promoted to ranks of SP and ASP. Since its formation the men and women of the Sri Lanka Police have done commendable service, with 3,110 officers laying down their lives whilst in active duty during the period of war. The public also has a responsibility and accountability to abide by the law and build a nation where the law reigns supreme.