DISCIPLINED POLICE FORCE IS FUNDAMENTAL TO DEMOCRACY

By Nemo Yalo
Democracy as we enjoy it is guaranteed under our Constitution. As Winston Churchill the former British Prime Minister said in 1947, democracy is not perfect, nothing is perfect, but it is the best form of government we have. Many things define our democracy: the system of government defined by three arms of government under which we have independent Constitutional offices, law enforcement agencies, etc. The government gets its legitimacy from the people who are, as the Constitution says, the source of the power to govern, the source of the power to legislate and the source of the power to adjudicate and administer justice. The power is to be exercised for their benefit. This is succinctly summed up in the famous words of former US President Abraham Lincoln on 19 November 1863: “Government of the people, for the people, by the people”. The government exercises its power through its various key agencies not just for the purposes of governance and public welfare but also in furtherance of the democratic ideals and values enshrined under our Constitution. These key agencies include Constitutional offices and State Services such as the police force.

Constitution: Primary Functions of the Police

Constitution Section 197 states that the primary functions of the police force are: “(1) to preserve peace and good order in the country and (2) to maintain and, as necessary, enforce the law in an impartial and objective manner”. The People through these simple words have conferred power on the Police Commissioner and every single officer in the force to exercise it without fear or favour treating everyone equally before the law regardless of their status or social class. The words are not just dry ink on paper. They are the voice of the People speaking through their Constitution. The Constitution says under Schedule 1.2.4: “A Constitutional Law speaks from time to time”. Numerous Supreme Courts have interpreted and applied these words to mean that the Constitution is a living document, an evolving law and its words (i.e. the voice of the People) speak from time to time as the occasion requires.

We assume that the primary function of the police force is one of the first of basics of all lessons taught to new intakes at Bomana and reminded everyday of their working lives each time they pull on their blue uniform to report to duty. The People look up to the police force to enforce the law, protect them, their rights and liberties and their property and prevent civil disorder. So the current police motto: “Securing a Safer Community” has basis from the Constitution. Securing and promoting a safe community, really?

Police Ill-discipline and Lawlessness

The law allows police legitimate use of force under specified circumstances. But think about allegations of policemen slashing off a student’s fingers with bush knife; slashing ankle tendons of multiple civilians; allegation of bashing up an academic and stealing personal belongings; terrorizing a person with canine police dog; chasing a wrong car, firing at and shooting dead an innocent child; allegedly assaulting detectives for doing their work and terrorizing innocent families; beating up suspects in full public view using vehicle fan belts; allegations almost on a daily basis where officers are drunk in uniform and abusing and assaulting members of the public thus acting as the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner at once; and the list goes on… The frequency of these criminal acts seems to be a clear statement of disrespect for their command and the hierarchy daring their superiors to touch them if they are men enough. Perhaps they know their superiors will not hold them to account. Every time the hierarchy announces that it has zero tolerance on such ill-discipline the public is quietly resigned to asking, ‘really’?

Division in the force is no secret. When and who is going to stop this and unify the force? When will the People see order in the force? Or will there be no order because every officer from top down belongs to a faction? So when one Commissioner is in office it is his faction to rule and this tribal culture continues each time a different Commissioner takes office. Even with intervention from Australian Government police human rights abuse and lack of professionalism, yes no doubt by a few, is getting worse. Australian tax payers are asking whether it is worth their continued support if their dollars and efforts yield little result. Where are we now with the Police Modernisation Program that came with a huge fanfare?

Then there are instances of public attacks on police officers? Are these opportunistic criminal attacks or they are they targeted and deliberate revenge attacks? The comments through social media offer insights into what some increasingly perceive of their police force. They suggest that the government is losing its legitimacy from the People unless it stops the police lawlessness and the continuous deprivation of civil rights and liberties.

What are Root Causes of Police Ill-discipline?

Before readers throw dirt at our police officers one should ask, where the police force once the nation’s pride has gone wrong. What may be the root causes of the breakdown of discipline and lawlessness within the force? Could the Bougainville crisis and the successive governments’ neglect to the necessity to rehabilitate and reintegrate our officers into civilian lives and service be one of the root causes? Police officers from all sections who were trained for civilian service were thrown into a warzone. They all experienced the hostilities and carnage of war and returned battle-hardened to their wives, families and their normal police duties to serve the civilian duties. This writer used to observe the behavior of soldier friends that returned from Bougainville during the crisis. To them their comrades mattered more than anyone. Even to this day they live for each other and they owe their lives to their comrades. One thing bad happens to a member of the unit and it hurts everyone as if they are part of the same human body. The experience may be no different to our police officers. This writer is not aware of any serious government intervention to help rehabilitate and integrate these battle-hardened police officers to perform their civilian duties. Regrettably the same neglect applies to the military personnel. In short the end result is the culture we find within the forces built over time. The new police recruits may be thrown into this deeply-rooted culture. Regrettably no government has ever considered addressing this institutional issue that is currently characterizing our police force today.

Then there is the political interference into the independence of the police force (and the military). This became so apparent during the August 2011 political impasse. We had two of everything from Prime Ministers to Ministers to Police Commissioners and Defence Force Commanders. It was done for pure personal political interests and was done without shame lacking moral conscience! The officers who were involved, and not just politicians, should cop the same. It has been the norm over the years that when there is a change of government it is time to change everything: Police Commissioner; Commander PNGDF; departmental heads; heads of statutory authorities and boards of State-owned enterprises. When political interference goes against natural succession within a disciplined force it affects the rank and file. When officers who do not possess merit are appointed to senior positions it destroys the morale within the force and lowers discipline. Politics is one of the single biggest causes of the destruction of the independence of the People’s police force.

Police officers are occasionally directed to be flown into Port Moresby from outside the city for political self-preservation rather than for public interest. Politicians are currently using police officers to guard them 24 hours. If they are receiving security allowance paid to them every fortnight through their salary they should employ private security guards as stipulated under the Salaries and Remuneration Commission Determinations. This does not apply to those officers deployed for close protection purposes to protect very limited number of VIPs. If leaders are receiving security allowances and yet use police officers for personal security this is double-dipping and is a breach of the leadership code and may well be criminal offence. Public officials other than politicians are continuing the same practice.

Political Affiliation and Privatised Police Force.

This practice can best be described as privatization of the police force. The nation’s police force is being used by some to prevent arrest and to prevent course of justice and rule of law. Why should police officers depart from their primary independent Constitutional functions unto which they all swore to serve? Our officers should take wisdom from George Washington former US President: “The Constitution is the guide which I will never abandon”. They must learn lessons from this sort of privatized police-type activities in apartheid South Africa. Citizens were kidnapped, jailed without charge, tortured and hanged in prisons. Zimbabwe Police Force has copped its fair share of criticism from both Zimbabweans and Amnesty International for alleged political bias and systematic violations of rights and liberties. In 2001 the Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri openly and audaciously told Zimbabweans: “Many people say I am a Zanu PF. Today, I would like to make it public that I support Zanu PF because it is the ruling party. If any other party comes to power I will resign …” (Zanu PF is the name of President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party.) Sadly, we have our own share of police corruption generally and political association. Again our officers should note another of President Washington’s famous quote: “Associate yourself with men of good quality, if you esteem your own reputation; for ‘tis better to be alone than in bad company”.

Police Force Fundamental to Democracy


A well-disciplined independent police force is fundamental to democracy. It ensures, among others, that rule of law applies equally to all persons. Our officers owe it to their nation and their People. In a true democracy police apply the law passed by the Parliament. It is an entirely different matter if it subjects its own independence to executive orders and directions. When an independent police force is politicized and privatized by those in power be rest assured that the latter who are devoid of moral conscience will use threat and force to avoid and resist accountability and proper application of rule of law. We need no divine voice to tell us then that dictatorship has arrived on home soil, home-grown!

Conclusion


Factions of our police force, in the minority, lacking regard for rule of law, civil rights and liberties is a clear symptom of weakness in its hierarchy and institutional decay caused by the lack of government’s attention to address them. Let not the first stone be cast on these officers, though their ill-discipline we condone not. The government as the employer has the ultimate responsibility to re-instill discipline in the force. It must first start with keeping politics and self-interests out of the force. It must immediately address the inherent deep-rooted issues that are manifested in the symptoms we see on a daily basis. Establishing ad-hoc task force is a joke to the daily public pain and grief. It will not help root out deeply entrenched culture causing institutional decay. There can be no true democracy when the police force is a serious threat to it. If the police poses such a threat then it is indeed the employer and its political interference and its inaction that is the real threat to our nationhood, the Constitution and our democracy.
 
NEMA YALO is a Practising Lawyer, Former Counsel to Ombudsman Commission andFormer Acting National Court Judge.