SRI LANKA POLICE IN A NEW LIGHT | Sunday Observer

SRI LANKA POLICE IN A NEW LIGHT

Sir Hugh Orde,  Chief Constable, Northern Ireland
Sir Hugh Orde, Chief Constable, Northern Ireland

International Policing Consultant and the Former President of the Association of Chief Police Officers in the United Kingdom Sir Hugh Orde was on an official five-day visit to Sri Lanka this week. His task: to assist the Sri Lankan Government in formulating a plan to help transform the Police force of the country. In a series of top-level meetings, Sir Orde reviewed proposals made by the government while meeting with Police officers of all ranks during his stay.

A highly experienced Police Officer and an expert in Police reforms especially during the Northern Ireland troubles, Sir Hugh Orde began his career with the Metropolitan Police in 1977. Holding several high ranking positions in the span of his distinguished career, Sir Orde popularly known as a Policeman’s Policeman has also been a staunch critic of cuts to Police funding while consistently emphasizing the need to keep Politics out of policing.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Sir Orde answered our questions on his observations during his visit and future plans in transforming the Sri Lanka Police. Here are some selected excerpts from the interview:

Q: What is your mission in Sri Lanka?

As the Chief Constable in Northern Ireland I was tasked with implementing the recommendations for Police reforms after the insurgency in the country ended. During my tenure of seven years as the head of the Northern Ireland Police force we had to deliver a very similar reforms program as now being envisioned by the Sri Lanka Police.

While clearly a of lot of work and effort have already been put in, the Minister for Law and Order Sagala Ratnayake along with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are very interested in Police reform. Therefore my attempt is to share my experiences with the Minister of Law and Order and the Police while also understanding local law enforcement. My effort is to help and advise the government on various recommendations being made as the Sri Lanka Police drives their own reforms program forward.

Q: During your short stay what were your initial observations regarding the local Police Force and how do we fare compared to other Police forces?

This is my first visit to Sri Lanka. During my visit I attempted to meet all related and genuinely interested parties who have committed to this reforms process. As a result I have begun to understand the challenges faced by the Police. I have noticed some gaps that need to be looked at, in particular around Police intelligence. I have had the opportunity to meet some very professional officers and I noticed that some of the training is excellent. The currently on going leadership training supported by the Police of Scotland is very good. The IGP is clearly interested in developing his staff.

I noticed that the Police officers are doing things that are not related to Police work due to a lack of civilian staff. Therefore there is a lot of potential to inject more professional expertise through civilian staff thereby reducing the burden on the Police.

The role of gender in the Police have also raised some questions as there are a very few senior female Police officers. This has to be changed.

The current Police service serves the purpose but it can get better. While the force wants to improve various issues are hampering the process. Meanwhile the IT facilities of the force by way of new software can be improved.

The force must take this opportunity now to transform itself. They appear keen to get on, re-organize and deliver better results but the challenges should not be underestimated.

Q: This reforms process has taken time to come into being. What can the Police force and public expect next in this reforms process?

It is quite a large Police force with over 85, 000 staff. The reform program therefore is quite ambitious but the recommendations made are sensible. My initials thoughts on the reforms process are that the plan is achievable but complicated. I believe it will require a restructuring of the service and implementing a less hierarchical approach. During my tenure in Northern Ireland I had to flatten my organizations and put responsibility in the front end. I am very interested in looking at the role of intelligence and how it works and all the oversights. My opinion is that the more transparent a Police service can be the more trusted it will be. People should be able to expect transparency from their Police force.

I believe there will be some visible changes in the future which will send the message to the public that the Police are attempting to do things differently. But I think it will take time as the logistics are challenging but my sense is the public will see a more civilian looking service with more authority at station level in the near future.

Q: In your opinion what is the ideal time period needed to reform a Police force?

These things take time and needs to be thought through. A lot of planning and thinking has gone on which is very positive. The Inspector General of Police is very interested and keen to move on. But we need to be organized and the review committee has come up with some really good models and ideas. We need to get the structure right first and once it is decided which senior officer will lead on which recommendation the IGP will be be in a better position to give a time frame. In Northern Ireland it took me seven years to implement 175 recommendations. Recommendations in Sri Lanka are a lot less but in all honestly can take a long time to deliver.

Q: How important is it to modernize a Police force and how can the issues such as lack of funding and red tape be addressed?

Modernizing the force is critical and I think the Sri Lanka Police has recognized the need. Since the Police are in the front lines constantly, they have demanded change which is a positive step.

As for the issues on funding in Northern Ireland I had the support of the Minister and the Sri Lanka Police clearly has the backing of their Minister and the Prime Minister for the reforms process. Change costs money and one has to be realistic. It is not an open cheque book therefore prioritizing is important. Providing IT facilities for example in Sri Lanka appears to not be too expensive. However Intelligence and crime handling tools can be more expensive so there needs to be a clear strategy.

Q: You have always emphasized on the need to keep Politics out of Policing. But sometimes Political interferences are inevitable. What can be done to curb this?

The basic principle in the UK is that it should be separate. Police officers should do their duty according to the law and be held to account by the system government decides is appropriate. In Northern Ireland I was held to account by a Police Board of 19 members which also included politicians. They had a power to call me to account and I had to attend public meetings where I could be asked questions. What they could not do was to tell me how to Police and that is the principle that has stood the test of time.

In any organization there are instances of interference. The power of leadership is therefore to resist and challenge it. Police have to adhere to their code of ethics and will be in a strong position to resist inappropriate approaches. However it is naive to think that there can be no relationship between the Police and Politics with Politicians also having the right to have access to Police. But they have no right to interfere in Policing.

Q: Sri Lanka has come far in the aspect of Community Policing, but negative attitudes about the Police remain. Is there still room for improvement in the relationship between the Police and Public?

Taking the Northern Ireland conflict for example some communities were not engaged with the Police at all and resorted to other methods of law enforcement. So when we were presented with the opportunity we developed the concept of community policing and local commanders were allowed to take decisions on how to do that. Slowly but surely the frontline officers were able to gain the trust of the communities. It’s quicker if the seniors left it to the officers who are in the front end because they know the situation far better. It’s just about good, professional police work and well trained officers. Ideally it is better if officers can stay in these communities for a decent period of time to develop trust.

But if Police misbehave it can have negative effects. Training can help in improving professionalism while leadership in challenging unacceptable behaviour is important. Sometimes officers do behave inappropriately but most of the time it is not malicious. If the station commander can simply resolve the issue between the parties there need not be major investigations into minor incidents.

Q: There have been allegations of torture being used during questioning which have even led to deaths. How can the force come out of the attitude that no other questioning method can work on a suspect?

The moment the Police step outside the law to enforce the law, you’re on the road to anarchy. If we cannot build a case without professional investigating methods to convict the right person then it is better not to convict anyone. The issue of torture is non negotiable. It is not a conditional right but an absolute right of the suspect. Officers who abuse this should be dealt with severely.

In Northern Ireland every interview room is equipped with a camera with the Sergeant of the station being held responsible for the suspects legally and not the investigating officers. If anything of an inappropriate nature happens the Sergeant would intervene regardless of the rank. These are some technical things that can be done to help avoid these situations and to help Police also avoid false allegations of torture. Therefore CCTV in cells and investigation rooms can help as it proves what did or did not happen.

Investigation methods can be improved through investigation courses, use of technology, DNA, phone analysis methods, CCTV and tracking of suspects. Good basic witness statement taking is important and building the case with witnesses, protection of witnesses, evidence and victim care as well as support is vital. That is how a case should be built lawfully.

Q: The Police is not an attractive career path for youth in Sri Lanka anymore with the force struggling to hire new recruits as a result. What methods can be adopted to address this?

One would like to think that in the new environment it is more attractive as it is allowing the Police to do what they want to do, which is protecting the people. I do not know if there is a shortage or not but the current number of staff in the Police must be looked at during the process to determine if its adequate.

Career development is important and a number of officers have expressed their concerns on the delays in promotions. This has to be looked at and rectified. People should be motivated and developed laterally through skills development. If people are demotivated they will carry these sentiments to work and make them less effective. In Northern Ireland we evaluated the force yearly and held exams and interviews for promotions while also helping them to be more qualified. This is not happening in Sri Lanka.

Q: There appears to be major job dissatisfaction among the officers in the Sri Lanka Police force due to various issues. Do you plan to address this as any transformation will not be possible in a demotivated Police force?

In Northern Ireland we allowed demotivated officers to leave the force early if they wish. But there are ways of motivating people. During the transformation process I emphasized to the PM that the plans need to be communicated to officers at all levels. I believe this will motivate them and a lot will be enthusiastic about the new changes. It is important to make them feel involved in the change while also being well paid for their work. Transformations cannot be done to people but must be done with the people. But this does not mean I underestimate the issue of a demotivated Police force. However the Minister has made some changes and I believe more steps will be taken in this regard.

Q: Sri Lankan cops face allegations of corruption constantly. How important are salaries and better benefits for the force in a transformation process?

The best way to eliminate low level corruption is to pay the people properly. Police pay in Sri Lanka has increased by 40 per cent this year. This is a significant start. I turned up at a Police station unannounced and the officers were being given free medical health checks. Acts such as these will show the Police that their leadership does care and increase job satisfaction and eliminate corruption. I think a lot of these issues can be resolved quickly and I am confident about the upcoming changes.

Q: With Sri Lanka being a country in transition how positive are you regarding the proposed transformation process of the Police?

I will submit a report on my initial observation to Minister Ratnayake soon while I will also possibly visit Sri Lanka on three occasion for a start to observe and evaluate on how I can add value to the transformation process. I am keen to move away from Colombo and visit other areas while also meeting community leaders.

But having met a number of senior officers and officials I understood that they are up for the challenge with a good leadership and direction to help them in this task. Therefore I am confident that it is possible. My only caution would be is, do not expect this to happen soon, as it cannot be done overnight. The public should give the service a chance to prove it means to transform while the Police needs to communicate to the force and the public about what they are doing as the more ambitious the process is the more support the Police will need in making a change.

Pix: Rukmal Gamage 

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