LAHORE - Finally, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last week reached the central police office in Lahore to inaugurate “digital system service” for the Punjab police. In early February, PM’s scheduled visit to the CPO was cancelled at the eleventh hour because of security reasons.

Authorities believe the digital system developed by the provincial information and technology board will help police fight criminals more effectively. The government also believes that police station clerks would not have to beg complainants or criminals for stationery, fuel, or food in future since they are being equipped with latest computers and other equipments.

The police in recent years are equipped with several web applications, software, and mobile phone Apps. This modern technology is helping police in maintaining data of criminals, police stations record management, automated attendance system, and also in automated fingerprints scanning and matching. The software also helps police in crime mapping, monitoring of hotels and inns, and registration of tenants.

Prime Minister while addressing a ceremony at the IG office on Saturday said that it was the top priority of his government “to provide an effective, efficient and public-friendly police force” equipped with the sate-of-the-art technology to face modern day challenges.

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 the government failed to build 100 model police stations due to multiple reasons. Police sources say the project had been shelved because of lack of funds and resources. The policemen serving in the so-called model police stations were never paid salaries as they had been promised.

It was planned that a monthly grant of Rs100,000 would be given to the stations house officer of the model police station in big cities and Rs15,000 per month allowance had also been proposed for the SHO. Simply, the project failed because the police were not given the promised allowances and other benefits.

Even today, the lower staff, in most of the police stations of the Punjab province, has to beg the “notable” of the area to run the day-to-day affairs of the police station. Although, the government allocates billions of rupees for the police department, the development funds never reach a police station. Most of the funds are consumed by the police hierarchy since no one can question the powerful police how and where the funds were utilized.

What to say about the computerized system, when duty officers are seen writing FIRs on a plain paper by-hand in most of the police stations in rural districts. The PML-N leadership could be given the credit for building mega projects in a short span of time like underpasses and Metro-Bus. But they are unable to introduce reforms in the corruption-riddled police force. There is not a single police station in the province where police are not bribed. Perhaps, the police are the only department in which the officials bribe their colleagues or seniors to skip duties and get other favours.

The police stations having highest crime rate are still considered as the “best police stations”. In such stations, the police collect huge monthly income from narcotics dealers and those running brothels or gambling dens. The postings and transfers are ordered on someone’s recommendations.

Believe it or not, one-third of the police were punished over corruption or ill-discipline in 2015. According to a report, many among those awarded major or minor punishments were Constables, Head Constables, and Assistant Sub Inspectors. 

The punishments included dismissal from service, compulsory retirement, reduction in rank and pay scale, extra-drill quarter guard, censure, and fine. Cops were given punishments on different grounds ranging from corruption to misuse of power and death in custody to faulty investigations.

The scale of punishments awarded to a large number of officers reflects the police department has been struggling to make the largest law enforcement agency a corruption-free and well-disciplined force. However, security and crime experts argue that the extent of punishments expose rampant corruption in a powerful agency.

Reportedly, 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.

Even the corruption-tainted officers are terminated from service but they manage to come back with the help of influential individuals since the postings and transfers are not made on merit. In this regard, there are several examples.

On the other hand, elite officers trained to purge Punjab’s police of corruption and brutality, have been languishing idle in Thanas throughout the province. A couple of years ago, at least 400 officers were selected from 70,000 candidates to lead a cultural revolution in policing in Pakistan’s largest law enforcement agency. 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.

During background interviews, some officials said the government’s plans for a policing revolution are being sabotaged by 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 these young officers are never given a chance to lead a police station.

The station house officers, circle officers, and divisional police officers enjoy all the powers. In the presence of Moharrars and admin officers, the police department established over 200 front desks with civilian staff at police stations to facilitate the visitors and complainants.

Interestingly, the front desk officials, admin officers, and Moharrars are doing the same job but in separate offices and under the supervision of station house officers. All the three characters have no authority to take any action on public complaints or crime happenings. They have to follow the orders of the senior officers in letter and spirit. They are ‘bound’ to facilitate or entertain the visitors besides maintaining the official record at the police station level.

Policy experts say there is a dire need to change the police mindset but under present circumstances it is like a hard nut to crack. “At a time when terrorists are carrying out brutal gun and bomb attack in the country, police are seen (at security check points) searching the purse of motorcyclists or the mouth of car-riders to mint money. We need to change the mindset first. The change in police uniform will not bring any change if the mindset remains the same,” they argued.