LAHORE - The issue of police reforms over the years has remained a controversial subject. Every regime has been reluctant to change the centuries-old system which has a direct bearing on the lives of citizens. It is now a proven fact that government cannot dispense justice without introducing radical changes in police system.

However, the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led Punjab government seems serious to reform the police system inherited from the British Raj. It has devised a comprehensive police reforms package intended to change the negative aura of police among the masses.

Notwithstanding the reservations expressed by senior police officers over the proposed reforms, the government thinks that the new system is about strengthening police as a strong institution, besides changing its image among the people.

Official sources privy to the recent presentations given to the high ups on the subject matter claimed the reforms package addresses the major issues including redressal of public grievances, internal and external accountability, fair check and balance system to tackle internal maladministration and high handedness, provision of financial autonomy and improvement in performance and service delivery; and last but not the least safeguarding human rights and safeguarding police autonomy at the same time.

A police station is the primary unit of police setup. It is the place where people have their first contact with the state. They come here to lodge their complaints against criminals.

In a radical step, it has been proposed to grant station house officers (SHOs) the powers of drawing & disbursing officers (DDOs) through amendments in rules. This is to address a common complaint by SHOs that senior officers sit over the funds meant to meet the running expenses of police stations.

The police officials have to extort money from complainants to meet the day to day expenses.

The government believes this would also help maintain a better working environment for the police officials at the police stations.

Under redressal of grievances, police complaints authority will be established with solid regional presence, and for it a draft law will be tabled in the Punjab Assembly within 30 days.

The complaints authority will have permanent professional investigators, and shall have power to undertake investigation in case of death or injury due to police action.

The authority will have a director general and five directors including a retired police officer, a prosecutor, lawyer and a civil servant.

In respect of internal accountability, new standards regarding police investigation will be set. Police will have to complete the investigation process within 60 to 90 days.

Besides, use of technology in all facets of police and criminal justice will be made mandatory. Also, the forensic agency will be made effective at provincial level, which will be beneficial in all sorts of investigation.

In external accountability, the government plans to establish independent external inspectorates to act as a watchdog on the police.

For this, the government is bringing a proper law by 30th September, said the sources. The existing public safety commissions which had become redundant over the years will be abolished.

In order to check the internal maladministration, the police will now have a comprehensive transfer and posting system in place.

Under the new arrangement, recommendations regarding posting of police officers on key posts will be made on the basis of performance by internal board of senior police officers. The premature transfers can be ordered by government but with an appropriate justification.

Moreover, placement of Special Branch under the chief minister is also part of the plan, which shall give further autonomy and freedom of reporting, so the illegal detentions, extra judicial killings and raids that go unreported should be fairly reported.

Also, separate recruitment of qualified civilian cadre, besides police officers as in IB and ISI for improvement in services, has been proposed to be made within 3-6 months.

Authors of these reforms are of the view that they would be massively beneficial in establishing public trust over police institution.

A senior government official noted that it was highly disappointing that the top hierarchy of police have raised serious reservations over the new proposed system of policing by calling it a move to control the police department.

“These reforms are solely based on restoring respect of police among the masses, and if these reforms are systematically implemented, it will be a historical moment not only for Punjab but for the whole nation,” he observed.

The official further stated that all the developed nations that have an effective policing system have these systems within them which are being discussed in these reforms.