LAHORE - The provincial government jacked up police spending by almost 100 percent during the last five years but extra-judicial killings, rampant corruption, and faulty investigations remain the hallmark of the country’s largest law enforcement agency.

In their campaign manifesto, the ruling PNL-N had pledged the much-needed police reforms in the province. Last week, they presented their fifth and the last budget with much fanfare but without new schemes or projects. A few initiatives introduced in recent years are yet to be completed.

As per the budget estimates for the fiscal year 2017-18, the Punjab government announced an allocation of Rs 95.597 billion for police department. Most of the funds will be spent on salaries of the 180,000 strong police and Rs 15 billion are reserved for non-salary expenditures.

In her budget speech, Punjab’s finance minister Dr Ayesha Pasha said that at least Rs 198 billion would be spent on law and order and justice during the next fiscal year. Out of this total allocation, the provincial police department will get at least Rs 95.597 billion during the fiscal year 2017-18. The government, in 2014, had allocated Rs81.68 billion for the police. Similarly, only Rs 62 billion had been allocated for the police department in 2012-13.

Authorities also intend to spend Rs13 billion on the Safe City Authority project underway in Lahore. The minister further claimed that the work on the safe city project was launched in Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Multan, Sargodha, Bahawalpur, and Faisalabad. She insisted that this high-tech project will be completed during the next fiscal year and Rs45 billion would be allocated for this project in the next financial year.

Punjab government intends to extend the scope of this project to all over the province, she claimed.

Last year, the government had introduced the same project with similar allocation. Most of the work on the safe city project is pending in Lahore while authorities are yet to launch this initiative in any other big city of the Punjab province.

The same minister while presenting budget in 2016 had claimed the street crime dropped drastically in Lahore since the introduction of new patrolling units.  The minister had pledged that the Dolphins Squads would be expanded to eight more cities including Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Multan, Sialkot, Jhang, Sargodha, and Bahawalpur in fiscal year 2016-17. But the government has failed to raise such a force for other big cities of the province.

During Friday’s speech, the minister also claimed that the front desks had been introduced in all the 716 police stations of the province to facilitate the visitors and the victims of the violence. She said that the government was working to promote “friendly policing culture” in the province by employing civilian staff at the front desks of the police stations. On the other hand, most of the police stations are working under similar conditions with no online facility or computers.

In early 2012, the PML-N government had announced establishment of 100 Model Police Stations with the motto of making the police corruption-free and the province crime-free. Modern infrastructure, computer technology, and best resources to the law enforcing agency were the salient features of that plan. But this government failed to build 100 model police stations due to multiple reasons. The project had been shelved once and for all. The policemen serving in the so-called model police stations were never paid salaries as they had been promised.

Not enough, out of the total 180,000 strength of the Punjab police more than 51,200 policemen were awarded punishments for corruption or violating discipline in 2015. The department, in 2014, had awarded major or minor punishments to at least 59,164 policemen for corruption or ill-discipline.

The massive government funding in recent years has badly failed to bring any change in the Thana culture. Police officers are found stealing electricity from the national grid to run air-conditioners. Still, cops have to beg criminal elements and influential individuals of the area to run day-to-day affairs of the police stations. The repair, maintenance, and white-wash of police station buildings are considered the responsibility of the SHO, who collects ‘funds’ from locals to achieve the goal.  

The annual development funds worth billions of rupees are placed at the disposal of top police officers. There is no transparent mechanism to monitor the police spending. Only, a few clerks called accountants are dealing with the funding on the behest of provincial, regional, and distort police officers.

The law and order situation is worsening across the province. No less that 70,000 proclaimed offenders are at large and poor investigations are badly hampering the prosecution of criminals involved in heinous crimes. Investigators are unable to trace hundreds of blind murder cases.

The so-called “Reception Rooms or Front Desks” being established at various police stations of the province cannot change Thana culture in the years to come. Even the change in police uniform, introduced this year, could not win the trust of the people.

A couple of years ago, at least 400 officers were selected from 70,000 candidates to lead a cultural revolution in policing. According to the plan, the officers were supposed to lead the police station as Station House Officers and Heads of the Investigation Wing but almost all of them have been idle since they were posted to local thanas.

According to insiders, the government’s plans for a policing revolution were sabotaged by no other than a few senior officers. The Punjab government had invested heavily in training these officers who were posted to police stations throughout the province in 2016 to kick-start the reforms. But so far, only a few young officers are recently given a chance to lead police stations only in Lahore.

Most of the police station still lack front desks and only a few hundred police stations are equipped with the latest technology. In a desperate move to overhaul the corruption-riddled criminal justice system in the province, the government pumped billions of rupees into police pocket in the last five years but failed to overhaul policing in the most populated province.