NPC will prevent police service derailing
By Niranjala Ariyawansha
Gamini Navaratne, Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (Administration and Election) has served as the key Election Operations Officer of the Police Department for 15 years. He joined the police service in 1982 as an Assistant Superintendent of Police. Navaratne who holds a science degree from Peradeniya University, served as an assistant lecturer for one year. He served another year as a science teacher of a government school.
While in the police service, he read for an MSc in Computer Science and a Diploma in Criminology at Sri Jayewardenepura University. In appreciation of his service to the Police Department, he has been granted one year’s extension.
In an interview with Ceylon Today senior DIG Gamini Navaratne said the Police Commission is a result of good governance. It has powers to recruit, promote and transfer police officers and hold disciplinary inquiries.
?The Police Department was subject to severe criticism in the recent past. Do you think the newly appointed independent National Police Commission (NPC) will be able to restructure it so that it can win public appreciation?
A: The National Police Commission is a result of good governance. In fact, it has policy powers such as recruiting, promoting, transferring police officers and holding disciplinary inquiries about them. It has power to decide the continuance of an officer in the department. Therefore the NPC can have a great impact on the police service. Police officers can now act independently and impartially.
The IGP is below the NPC in hierarchy. The IGP is appointed by the President, but the NPC can make recommendations on the IGP to the Constitutional Council (CC). The President and the Chairman of the CC have powers to take action regarding the IGP.
?Police service has been subjected to severe criticism for politicization in the past period. Can the NPC change the situation?
A: Politicians have the right to mediate on behalf of their voters. But that right must be used within the boundaries of law. We accuse the police being politicized in places such limits have been surpassed. Politicians must decide if they betray their conscience for a single vote. Such actions can be disastrous to them in a future election.
The criminals rally round politicians during the election periods. They victimize the politician after he wins with their support. If we can prevent criminals getting in touch with politicians in future elections, it will be socially well and individually good for politicians.. The powers of the NPC may rule the police service. Those powers have been devolved to the IGP. They can be taken back if necessary. If the IGP acts properly, those powers can be devolved further to the DIGs and SSPs. The NPC acting above the police service is good. The NPC will prevent the police service derailing. It provides an answer to the politicization of the police service.
?People always have conflicts with the police. Police too have conflicts with people. But police service is essential for public security. How do you see this persisting conflict between police and people?
A: The main duty of police is implementing law and maintaining order. Police never have conflicts with law abiding citizens. For example, there are persons who ride motorcycles without helmets. They think going against law is heroism. Police have to act against such persons. I don’t say that police occasionally have conflicts with the law abiding citizens also. But as a whole, police have to take action against illegal elements to protect law abiding citizens. For example, if a section of the people is blocking the movement of law abiding citizens on roads agitating for a professional or any other problem, police have to prevent it. Police have to safeguard law-abiding citizens from illegal elements. In such instances, we cannot demarcate the boundaries exactly. The boundaries may blur in such instances. It is very complex and only the persons involved in them can understand the situation.
?Do you mean people have conflicts with police?
A: Yes. People sometimes act violently to achieve their objectives. They hope to impress the government through violence. But no lawful citizen respects violence. If we do not act against violence, public property is damaged. When we act to prevent it people go against us. We try to discuss with them and urge them to move forward for their objectives peacefully.
?But don’t the police act illegally sometimes and people go against them in such instances?
A: Police have no right to violate laws. It is an offence which must be punished. I don’t reject such situations. In such instances, NPC may punish them. Such bad elements are in any institution not only in police. They are in families also.
?But the existence of such elements in an armed organization which has powers to implement law is dangerous. Don’t you think so?
A: Officers are recruited to police from people. Police have a force of 85,000 personnel. All of them are not alike. Any police service in the world is like that. Everywhere, there are a few unscrupulous individuals. Such elements are among the clergy as well. It is natural. But we have implemented laws against the police officers who have acted illegally. Some have been sentenced to life imprisonment. Some others have been interdicted. People only look at our shortcomings. Police will never win the people’s respect. Police are sad about it.
?Even though police do not deliver justice, people still go to police. Why is that?
A: People cannot live without police for security reasons. People maintain police with their tax money. People have all the rights for police services. If police stations are closed for a single day, the criminals will have a field day. Robberies and rape will be commonplace. Police have to work with such rowdies. Sometimes, they kill or injure police officers. No one cares about them. People are secure at least to this level thanks to police.
The misuse of powers by police is a result of the collapse of rule of law. The situation is seen in almost all entities like family, parents, elders, social service institutions, religions and religious leaders. Police cannot hold back the decay of these institutions single handedly. Our aim must be to create a safe society even though people do not come to street urging for it.
We must desire for a society like in the past in which a woman could walk from Point Pedro to Dondra with gold jewellery intact and safely. This is a country in which 56,000 child abuses are reported annually. The above mentioned social institutes must join hands to prevent them.
? Police were criticized over the attack on HNDA students. How should the police act on such occasions?
A: Students could have damaged public property. Who takes the responsibility if it happened? Police tried to prevent them from damaging property. Students did not respond positively and became more violent. Police should use minimum power in such instances. When we view the images of the scene, we can see that there have been problems in the use of minimum powers. An investigation is underway. We have understood that several officers have acted out of proportion. The mentality of all officers is not alike. For example, women are raped in war. A few persons rob houses. But they have been punished.
?What is the use of minimum powers by police?
A: When a group of persons tries to cause carnage in some place, we ask them to refrain from going to the place. If they do not listen, we use water cannons. If they proceed further, we use tear gas and then baton charge. Police have powers to fire under the Police Ordinance. Can police be inactive when a group of persons continues violence even though the minimum powers have been used? Will the lawful citizens approve police inaction?
?There has been many times in history when police were overlooking many injustices occuring?
A: Yes. But people have taken legal action against police in such instances for not using minimum powers. Minimum powers can extend up to firing.
?Can police define minimum powers as they want? Isn’t it dangerous?
A: Yes. That’s a problem. For example, parents warn their kids against bathing in the sea. But when they do not listen to their advice, they have to beat the kids to stop them. It is against human rights. But parents do so out of love. It is not wrong according to Sri Lankan culture.
?When police do not use power, people take the law into their hands. It can be identified as irrational violence. Do you accept it?
A: People take the law into their hands when police fail to do justice. That is natural. But people taking the law into their hands are banned. They have to act for their safety if police are inactive.
?What do you think of suspects dying in police custody?
A: Police must arrest law breakers and produce them before Courts. Police have no powers to punish suspects. But police can act when a person is threatening police. We have to deal with notorious criminals. Sometimes, the suspects who went to surrender weapons to police were shot and killed by police. The judiciary will have to decide about them.
?Sri Lanka has serious crimes in which police fail to find the perpetrators. Especially, police have failed to arrest any of the killers of journalists and those who attacked them. What do you think about it?
A: Police have solved about 95 – 98 per cent of cases. Killing is a mental illness. Sometimes, some persons do them subtly and police cannot find the perpetrators. Sometimes cases are resolved fast and some are slow. But no crime is unresolved in the world. We must have determination to solve them. We expect the crimes against journalists will be resolved under good governance.
? You have served in police election operation division for 15 years. How did you do this without bowing to political influence?
A: I am a trained police officer. We must act impartially, independently and in a transparent manner. We cannot go against professional boundaries. I am a Buddhist and Buddhism has the discipline to act as a police officer. I have worked in that calibre for 15 years. But I have never aligned to a political party. I am moderate and open.
?What can you say finally about police service?
A: If you take me as an example, I did not become a thief, drunkard or killer since I was in police. I think this is relevant to all the others. Society is under control due to police. Police guide people in a good path like parents guide their children.