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Police Force – heal thyself


”Today the entire Police Department is in a disreputable condition. The fundamental problem with the police today is an acute lack of knowledge, honesty, transparency and credibility. People believe that the police are powerless to act on their own as they used to do formerly. . They believe that the Police will act only if the government would give them the green light, especially in sensitive matters ”
By Colvin Nihal Karunaratne, Ret; D.I.G Police

The Police are a high powered government institution whose activities are essential for the maintaining of law and order, stability and the establishment of the authority of the state over its citizens. Effective, fair and humane policing and a strict control of civil disturbances are necessary for stability, order, conflict prevention and political and economic development of a State.

The way the Police enforce law and order reflects on how citizens view justice and the state’s legitimacy. A Police Force dedicated to the protection of the people and their property and helps them in times of emergency, abides by the rule of law and uses violence as a last resort will “reduce unrest, lead to fewer riots and lessen the chances which would enable malcontents to stir up and organize subversion or insurrection”.

Further, any properly functioning modern democratic society requires an effective Police force to prevent all types of crimes, offences, and public nuisances; preserve the peace; apprehend disorderly and suspicious characters; detect and bring offenders to justice; collect and communicate intelligence affecting the public peace; and to promptly obey and execute all orders and warrants lawfully issued and directed to them by any competent authority (Sri Lanka Police Ordinance N0: 16 of 1865 Section 56).

File photo: Protest march by the workers of the Katunayaka F TZ
The Ceylon Police Force had its initiation with the establishment of the Office of the Fiscal during the British colonial times. The Office of the Fiscal was created in 1797 and Fredric Barron Myles was appointed as the first Fiscal of Colombo and entrusted with the responsibility of policing the city. This could well be considered the origin of the Ceylon Police. In 1867 the Chief of Police was designated as the Inspector General of Police and Mr. “William Robert Campbell” was appointed the first Inspector General of Police.

In 1915 Muslim rioters attacked the Police Headquarters in Colombo. The Police were successful in repulsing the attack which sparred in several parts of the country and the IGP was compelled to militarize the Police. In this year the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) was formed.
Following are some of the major riots that took place in post independent Sri Lanka
(1) 1953 Hartal, (2)1956 Gal Oya Riots, the first reported ethnic riot. (3) 1958 ethnic riots
(4) 1977 ethnic riots (5) 1981 riots in Jaffna (6) 1983 ethnic riots (7) 2000 Bandarawela riots. (8) October 2000ethnic riots (9) 2001 Mawanella Sinhala- Muslim riots and the 2006 riots.


No successive government has taken any meaningful attempt or suggestions, methods or strategies to find a tangible conflict resolution method to address these deep rooted, continuous ethnic conflicts. Instead of which they used the strong arm of the Police and services to eliminate the rioters. Ultimately, this deep-rooted violence became a ruthless terrorist assault from the year 1983 to May 2009. As a result of this conflict situation, the government was compelled to further militarize the Police Force and dispatch to the terrorist affected areas to assist some of the depleted armed forces. This caused many problems such as shortage of manpower, bad recruitment and lack of training, inadequate resources, political and bureaucratic interferences.

Riot control

In SC Case431/2001 The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has defined the limitations of the minimum power to be used by law enforcement officers when controlling riots. The correct procedure to control a riot is to use water cannon first, then tear gas and finally the baton. The senior officer in-charge of the Police party has to warn the offenders first, failing which give order to open fire at the mob and the senior officer takes the full responsibility for the action taken by the Police. Departmental Order No, A. 19 of the Police illustrates the procedure to be adopted under these circumstances.

The protest March by the workers of the Katunayaka F T Z

Free Trade Zone at Katunayaka is one of the island’s leading foreign exchange earners. More than a 100,000 workers are employed at this zone directly; another 300,000 are working indirectly. It earns about $3 B per annum. A Consultant Physiologist who had worked four years continuously in the so called FTZ had reported that eighty per cent of the workers in the Zone are suffering from stress related diseases. Under this circumstance we would have handled them with more care and respect.
On May 30 the workers demonstrated a protest march against the Government’s proposed private sector pension scheme. Before this protest march there were several peaceful demonstrations in the zone on the same issue. The Minister of Labour and the Political heads of the area had a series of discussions with the trade union leaders and the workers, all attempts of which miserably failed.

According to authentic sources, some senior officers who were in the zone had very correctly tried to negotiate with the trade union leaders and demonstrators but it had failed because the basic principles of Conflict Management and Negotiation techniques have not been followed properly and the negotiators failed to fathom the real stressful conditions of the workers. The Police accountability and responsibility.
According to credible information the day before the incident D I G of Kelaniya had informed the Police Headquarters regarding the requirement of riot squads. Police hierarchy has not given any serious ear to this request. At the time of the incident there had been five riot squads and five water cannon vehicles freely available in the Field Force Headquarters, readily waiting to move at very short notice.

Katunayaka is about 50Km from this F F HQ. The day before the shooting incident the D I G of the Western Province (North) (Kelaniya) has inquired from a responsible officer of the F. F. Hq as to why riot squads were not sent, the officer replied saying that “no orders received from IG orS/DIG Range III yet.” The most salient question to be asked is “as to why Police Headquarters failed to take action on the request of DI G Kelaniya”. The next question is as to who is accountable and responsible for this act of negligence? If not, was it a deliberate act or an omission or did the IGP have to carry out an improper order of a powerful person because of the brotherhood.

The saddest thing is that after the shooting incident, four water cannons and riot squads arrived at the scene, led by the Commandant himself. Knowing the strength and the capacity of these` riot squads I would say, if they were summand one hour prior to this incident the life of the worker would have been saved and the reputation of the Police and the Government preserved.

The reaction of the Government after the shooting

The senior DIG who was in charge of the Colombo Range III was transferred to the Kandy Range. The IG Police tended his retirement papers. Two police officers have been taken into custody over the shooting that left a large number of workers injured. It will be apparent to any prudent person that this is mere eyewash. He is very well known among his colleagues for extra political loyalty. One of the former Presidents promoted him to the rank of DIG over the heads of 43 other SSPP to appoint him as his personnel security officer. If his retirement was genuine he would be the second IG Police to retire prematurely from service. The current retirement is a questionable one. The Defense Ministry told the media that IG Balasuriya’s exit was a “historic display of public accountability” but union leaders and analysts dismissed it as a ploy to deflect worker anger over the new pension scheme that prompted the 30.05.2011 violence.

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) investigating into the clash between the FTZ workers and police had informed the Negombo Magistrate that police had shot at the workers from three different directions. The Police version was that they had to open fire to save the life of DIG Ravi Wejayagunawardana. But the CID investigators had found that the Police had opened fire after the DIG was hospitalized. The investigators had found that the Police had broken-open the doors of some FTZ factories before firing in every possible direction. The President has wisely appointed a one man commission to inquire into this unfortunate incident. The important question is whether IG Balasuriya quit the service having admitted the responsibility of neglect of duty. If it is so, IGP and the S/ DI G Range III, who was transferred to Kandy, would both be liable for a charge of ‘neglect of duty for not sending the riot squids in time to the trouble zone’ and thereby causing the death of a person and injuring about 200’others.

Today the entire Police Department is in a disreputable condition. The fundamental problem with the police today is an acute lack of knowledge, honesty, transparency and credibility. People believe that the police are powerless to act on their own as they used to do formerly. . They believe that the Police will act only if the government would give them the green light, especially in sensitive matters. The only tangible answer to this problem is an overall meaningful Police Reform.

It was heartwarming for us, particularly to the police retirees, to read in the newspapers that the Secy. Defence, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself had at the opening ceremony of the Police Academy, called the police to reform itself, to be more efficient.

The war against terrorism ended nearly two years ago. It is now highly opportune to start reforming the Police. But first things first. We need a ‘People Oriented Police Force’ instead of a ‘Politically oriented Police Force’. Sir Robert Peel who introduced the nine principles of Policing in the year 1829 emphasized that the Police are public and the public is the Police. As such the Police are a part of the people and cannot be separated from the public.

Police as law enforcers are mandated to ensure that the rule of law is implemented in both the letter and in spirit equally for all citizensThe only solution I can suggest to alleviate all the ills of the Police is the re-installing of the independent Police Commission. We hope and pray that the President will play a decisive role in Reforming and Professionalizing the Sri Lanka Police without allowing it to suffer an unnatural death.

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