Have the police reversed its role with anti-social goons? When the muggers and extortionists are maintaining a low profile, it seems the men in uniform have embarked on a mission of filling up the vacuum. At least a number of scandalous incidents that have taken place in recent times give such an impression. First, it was a failed attempt by the cops to stage-manage a situation in order to paint a bank official as a yaba trader. Then an official of the Dhaka South City Corporation was similarly sent to hospital following assault on him that left him unconscious. These two were widely published incidents of police excesses as well as crime. There were similar other stories reported from different parts of the country.
The latest such incident involves a police extortion attempt leading to the death of a tea stall vendor. On refusal to pay extortion money, the poor tea seller was kicked by a police source accompanying a law enforcement contingent in the city's Mirpur area. The impact caused him to fall on the burning stove resulting in severe burning of the poor man. He succumbed to his burn injuries at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
The tea seller, reportedly, obtained a written order from a deputy commissioner of the police instructing any patrol police approaching him not to harass the man or collect toll from him. For a year the order served well as an effective deterrent but this time things went wrong for him. A family that lived on his meagre income has been devastated. This is what the police contingent of the Shah Ali police station of Mirpur has been managed to do.
Now is the time to get over the myth that a few rogue policemen are responsible for lowering the image of the police. If this was so, how can a contingent of any police station regularly target innocent passers-by and collect money and other valuables under threat of filing cases for possession of yaba or other drugs. This is what the Shah Ali police have allegedly been doing. Reports have quoted a number of victims in the area.
This is not the first time that such allegations have been levelled against the men in uniform of other police stations as well. The police are getting increasingly involved in crimes of different magnitudes. Actually the problem lies with the recruitment process. It is an open secret that at the time of recruitment or to obtain promotion, they have to part with money ranging from Tk 0.5 to 1.5 million. So they are on the lookout to realise their investment (bribe money) as soon as possible in order to reimburse it.
Thus corruption and moral deviation have become endemic in the police. When the protectors thus become morally debased or bankrupt, they may do whatever they would like but not serve the public. To have a police force sensitive, sophisticated, effective and caring there is a need for radical changes in their orientation. The important issue is if the state is ready to come up with such an orientation for the law enforcement agencies so much so that they will feel obliged to be accountable to the people.