Ethics in law enforcement

How can a police officer who carries little respect for ethical and moral values, be a true custodian of human rights?

Mohammad Ali Babakhel April 14, 2016
The writer is a senior police officer

Ethics are more important than laws.

— Wynton Marsalis

A few years ago, after having imparted a module on police organisation in Pakistan, in a conversation with the then-commandant of the National Police Academy (NPA), I suggested that under-training assistant superintendents of police must be exposed to the ethics in law enforcement. He explained that owing to the paucity of time, it was not possible. He further contended that it was the responsibility of the parents and teachers to focus on ethical and moral values, and that the NPA, in allocating time to ethics, could compromise the physical as well as law-related aspects of the training. This raises the question: how can a police officer who carries little respect for ethical and moral values, be a true custodian of human rights and uphold the supremacy of the law?

A professional police organisation defines and implements ethical standards. Such volunteerism easily resolves the question of ‘who will police the police?’

In Pakistan, observance of ethical norms in policing remained confined to individuals primarily, and not institutions. However, to inculcate ethical values that were synchronised with the ideals of human rights, Article 114 of the Police Order (PO) 2002 was formulated. To regulate police practices under Article 114 of PO 2002, it is imperative that the provincial and capital cities’ chiefs issue the Code of Conduct. It includes practical guiding principles regarding stop, search and the arrest of individuals, the search of premises, seizure of property, interviewing victims and the interrogation of the suspects. A police officer violating the Code of Conduct shall be punished under Article 113 with dismissal, suspension, compulsory retirement or reduction in rank. Under Article 24 of the PO 2002, upon appointment, every police officer shall take oath of his responsibilities.

The Code of Ethics is not to be merely regarded as a bunch of ideals and hence, requires conversion into reality. Its practical manifestation is linked with numerous variables, including the commitment of the political elite with public safety, efficacy of the public safety apparatus, quality of training, public cooperation and the work-station environment of police stations. Article 156 of the PO 2002 defines penalties for certain types of misconduct of a police officer. Under article 15(3) of the PO 2002, in exceptional circumstances, on the basis of misconduct, the CCPO and the DPO may be removed from their assignments. Article 44 empowers the district public safety commission to receive complaints regarding the misconduct of a police officer and take action. Article 100 empowers the National Public Safety Commission to receive complaints of misconduct against the law-enforcement officer working for any federal law-enforcement agency. Article 155 prescribes a penalty for certain types of misconduct. Though PO 2002 provides an elaborate apparatus for ethical conduct, since Sindh and Balochistan reverted to the Police Act of 1861, two provinces are without a legal framework for ethical conduct. In the remaining two provinces, the ideals of PO 2002 are yet to be converted into reality.

In developing societies, blind compliance culture within the police badly compromised the observance of the ethical code of conduct. Because, in such countries, the police edifice rests on colonial fabrication, hence the elite class gets preference over the weaker segments.

Police organisations, established on colonial preferences, are averse to ethical standards; hence its democratic transformation seems a gigantic task. Maintenance of order in a society warrants observance of ethical policing standards. However, police leadership, having respect for ethics, supports the reporting of professional misconduct. The inclusion of ethical standards requires a better understanding of minor misconduct issues and expeditious complaint disposal apparatus.

In Pakistan, the motorway police is the only exception where, as per procedure, the duty officer himself goes to the violator and after greeting the violator informs him about the nature of violation and the consequence. Furthermore, whenever a new traffic regulation is introduced in the first phase, the commuters are educated through briefing officers and road safety literature.

Punitive behaviour, inculcated during training sessions, badly affected the curative passions of law enforcers. Arrogance within the chain of command kills the positive virtues, and thus, often, low-ranking officials feel frustrated. Consequently, the low-ranking officials are averse to professional ethical norms.

In Pakistan, police reforms neither focused on the improvement of police stations nor on public service delivery. A mere increase in the number of the constabulary may improve the visibility of the police, but may not improve the service delivery.

In our cultural context, reporting of professional misconduct within an organisation is regarded unethical. Therefore, those who are conscious of this obligation, avoid the reporting of professional misconduct of fellow officers. The few who dare, are not seen as part of the fraternity.

The British police are known as the most ethical law enforcement agency in the world. In 2014, with public consultation, a code of ethics for England and Wales was drafted. Codes of ethics are a bunch of ideals primarily defining the purpose of policing and they humanise the police in the eyes of public. A code of ethics not only enables the police to assert their independence, but also guarantees the protection of human rights.

In decision-making processes the ‘character of officers’ and ‘quality of leadership’ are the most influential factors. However, a strong lobby within the police thinks imparting knowledge about ethics is a waste of time.

To improve ethical standards, technological solutions may also help police organisations. Policies, as well as procedures for lodging complaints, need to be available on websites. Furthermore, ethics are to be incorporated in the training curriculum.

Police misconduct includes impolite behaviour, corruption and the misuse of power. With increased quality of supervision the incidence of misconduct may be reduced. The resolution of minor complaints is not to be taken merely as a punitive action, but rather, as a developmental issue. Prior to the observance of ethical standards, the police need to understand the needs of vulnerable segments.

To improve ethical standards, professional police organisations introduced the concept of ‘whistleblowing’. Introduction of such practices requires encouragement, reward and protection. A strong lobby within police organisations believes that measure like whistleblowing may weaken the team spirit and chain of command. However, advocates of whistleblowing argue that a police officer is not only supposed to be loyal to the chain of command, but also to the public interests. In Pakistan, the K-P police, for the first time, fired those officers from service, who allegedly had links with criminals and smugglers. Though it was a move to weed out the corrupt from service, owing to procedural and legal lacunas, the majority of them took advantage and were reinstated.

An effective policing apparatus clearly defines and prevents ‘misconduct’ otherwise ‘misconduct’ may become a complaint. Therefore, the police management should not wait for the intervention of the media, human rights organisations or civil society.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2016.

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x | 7 years ago | Reply @Lolz: But who will monitor and check the cameras? Will they be competent, ethical, vigilant and conscientous?
Lolz | 8 years ago | Reply Sir very well analysis. I would like to put forward just one suggestion that might make a huge difference in terms of implementation. Please set-up cameras in police stations and lock-ups and also put cameras in police mobiles/vehicles and bikes!
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