In any society, the Police Service plays a critical role in establishing rule of law, promoting human security and protecting human rights in the course of their duties to maintain law and order. However in Bangladesh, like many other developing countries, police awareness on human security issues and the importance of the rule of law is low. According to UNDP (September 2002), allegations regarding poor service delivery and corruption within the Police Service of Bangladesh are widespread in Bangladeshi society, with the majority of the general public perceiving the police to be corrupt.
Bangladesh’s police have a well-deserved reputation for brutality, corruption and incompetence. While all governments since independence have acknowledged these fundamental flaws, none of them has seen a competent and accountable police force as being in its interest. Whether the necessity has been fighting crime or tackling terrorists, successive administrations have relied on half measures and quick fixes usually involving the military rather than reforming the police as a long-term solution. Police practices remain non-transparent, inviting manipulation and misinterpretation of laws and misuse of authority. This is particularly a problem with powers of arrest on the grounds of suspicion, which are often misused.
Life in the police force is difficult and unrewarding for most officers. Working conditions are deplorable. Many officers are overworked, the transfer system has become a major source of corruption within and out of the police, and salaries are abysmal, even by local standards. Pay raises and promotions are infrequent and do almost nothing to improve the lives of officers or promote competency in the force. Without improved salaries and working conditions, no amount of oversight will help curb the corruption and malaise that is rife in the police. Rather a weak, corrupt and politicised force has allowed government agents to use the police to further their own narrow interests. And when left with little choice but to confront law and order issues such as rising crime or increasing extremist activity, the party in power has relied on quick fixes.
Public perceptions of police service delivery remain poor, with regular accusations that many officers derive income from members of the community in the form of bribes. The poor perceive the police to lack sympathy and understanding in their dealings with them, as well as feeling that their problems are unable to secure police attention, as they are unable to afford to pay the bribes necessary for this attention. Police are often seen as last resort for the poor, who generally prefer the intervention of community leaders to resolve conflict among community members. In fact, the criminal justice system as a whole and police officers in particular, do not enjoy public trust.
Given the constraints on the developing countries in delivering effective systems of criminal justice, citizens are likely, over time, to seek alternative forms of protection. For the poor community this would include forms of protection such as vigilante groups and for the wealthy and the business sector, the increased privatisation of policing and crime prevention.
According to the Amnesty International website, Amnesty International believes that the opportunity should now be seized to send a clear and unequivocal message that a climate of impunity, which has previously shielded politicians, military, police and other officials responsible for grave human rights violations from effective prosecution, will no longer be tolerated.
Police reform is a difficult and necessary task for any country. Over the last few decades, societies all over the world have undergone important changes both in the types of crimes that they are confronting and also in the degree of openness and accountability they expect from institutions charged with maintaining public order. Police organizations that have classically operated in a “closed” manner are attempting to become more “open,” carrying out their tasks with the cooperation and support of the general public. Such institutional transformations are far from easy, especially in the region of South Asia where the police, as a legacy of colonial rule, considered an instrument to preserve the power and the authority of various types of governments, rather than a service to protect the rights of average citizens.
The government is indifferent towards the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-sponsored Police Reform Programme (PRP). The PRP is funded and driven primarily by UNDP and the project’s largest donor, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). Serving and retired officers, well aware of the faults of their organisation, suggest that the PRP is not aimed at transforming the police into a modern, disciplined force able to serve and protect citizens, but is rather a costly – and questionably effective – set of administrative modifications. But Bangladesh’s donors and its neighbours, including India, have a responsibility to work with the government (and the military) to get reform right, since an accountable and competent police force is the best defence against extremist groups that might threaten stability in the region and further afield. It would also create resilience in a society that will face enormous stresses in the coming decades from climate change, population growth and globalisation. The prospects for root and branch reform of Bangladesh’s police force are dim. Without executive support for a new or revised police law – which would provide the legal basis for a number of crucial reforms – remedial and stopgap measures, such as the PRP, will continue to function as inadequate substitutes.
Relevant and irrelevant legal principles:
Police academies’ curricula seldom include the most recent developments in police work (like community policing concepts). Fields like human rights, if incorporated, are not integrated into the curriculum but are taught as a separate block, leading to their marginalization. Continued retraining of active police officers is not required, and in most cases, not even offered as an option. Police Constables, who constitute about 75% of Bangladesh Police Service, receive little training on human rights issues, especially regarding vulnerable members of the community, namely, women and children, treatment of persons in police custody and dealings with street children, prostitutes, drug addicts, vagrants, beggars and disabled persons. The low level of training received by police constables is also an issue of concern, with their training being a one off affair rather than being undertaken on an ongoing basis. The training unit of the Police Headquarters is understaffed, with budgetary constraints being a major obstacle.
Relevant legal principles and independent research:
The general impression of the people about the police is poor. The people consider the police administration to be corrupt. Although the police are mainly responsible for maintaining law and order in the country, they are also involved – directly or indirectly – in controlling corruption. The number of policemen in the country is 110000. The manpower of police has not, however, increased in proportion to the growth in population. A limited number of police remain engaged in maintaining law and order, because almost two thirds of the force remain busy with VIP duties. As a result, the ground is created for deterioration of law and order and spread of corruption.
The present administrative arrangement of the police force is also responsible to some extent for the corrupt practices of the police.
Each year, around 80-82 thousand cases are filed against the police personnel in the police headquarters. 50 to 60 thousand police also get punishment. Some of them even go to jail. But the situation has not improved. The police stations are supposed to play an important role in maintaining law and order, combating crime and reducing corruption. But a mere Inspector remains in charge of such an important institute. There is scarcity of efficient, well-trained and meritorious police officials in the thanas.
- Police generally attribute poor service standards to low salary levels, inappropriate reward systems, lack of logistics, poor staffing structures and most importantly, political intervention in day-to-day policing. Police concerns relate mainly to their employment conditions, namely: conditions of service; pay and allowances; promotion prospects; housing and medical facilities.
- Monetary compensation to Police can be seen as only one way of improving motivation of work. Fast tracking of talented Police officers must also be considered, with greater opportunities for career development being offered. The Police Force should look to become more representative of the general community: this will assist it in being better able to respond to human rights issues such as appropriate and human treatment of minorities and women. A change in focus towards a more community-friendly model of policing should also be considered.
3. Improvement in relations between the police and the public, and in public confidence in the police service; increased police efficiency in dealing with crime, and responsiveness to public needs; increased police accountability to the public and commitment to human rights and a wider strategic reform process building on some best practices are some of the critical areas of police reform in Bangladesh.
Amnesty International suggests about police reform in their website. Effective policing requires the support of local communities, yet public mistrust in the police is pervasive and cannot be restored unless there is professional, competent and effective police reform. That is a long-term endeavour. But there are some key initiatives that the CTG can begin. As well as the preparation of a draft Police Ordinance, Amnesty International would also encourage it to consider an independent police complaints mechanism to bring about accountability to the police system and give it operational independence from the executive to carry out its functions without political interference. The police also need resources to tackle internal threats and crime. They remain far better placed to handle counterinsurgency and terrorism threats than a military trained to fight external enemies. The international community should realise that helping the police rank and file, not just military and elite paramilitary forces, with training and technical assistance would pay counter-terrorism dividends. However, the Bangladesh government should not just improve training, increase financial support and eventually police numbers but also enact concrete organizational and political reforms. Political appointments must end; merit alone must determine postings, transfers, recruitment and promotions; the recommendations of police and the public for reform must be considered and emphasis placed on the police serving and protecting citizens.
- The rules and regulations of the police force should be modernized in the light of present socio-economic realities.
- More thanas should be set up in metropolitan areas for aiding the maintenance of law and order, combating crimes and reducing corruption.
- Private security arrangements should be made for the VIPs, so that the police can give more time and effort for public service.
- An Assistant Superintendent of Police belonging to the Bangladesh Civil Service should hold the charge of thanas or police stations.
- Before the appointment of ASPs as in-charge of the thanas, they should be given two years’ training on running a model police station.
A force that is professionally run, well trained, adequately paid and operationally autonomous will best ensure the security of their constituents and the government itself. Moreover successful police reform can only be sustained if it is linked to a judiciary that enforces the rule of law fairly and effectively to protect individual rights and assure citizen security. If the police continue to be used for political ends, the force may be damaged beyond repair at a great cost not only to Bangladesh’s citizens but also to the current and future elected governments.
According to Transparency International Bangladesh, corruption today has its roots deep inside Bangladesh society. It has now become an inseparable part of the country’s cultural moorings. The general masses routinely fall prey to corruption in different shapes and forms. It not only hampers economic growth, local and foreign investments are also discouraged in the process. The availability of resources decrease, poverty rises and efforts for human development are jeopardized. The ineffectiveness and unprofessionalism of police in responding to ordinary crime and providing for public safety fosters lack of trust in police and undermines the legitimacy of the institution itself. Police reform has to be accompanied by reform of the justice system, and there has to be coordination between organised crime policing and regular policing. The need for improved police training is acute because traditional training courses generally focus on rules, tactics and physical aspect, ignoring important mental and behavioural consideration.
Human Security in Bangladesh – In Search of Justice and Dignity, UNDP, September 2002.
Neild, Rachel. Democratic Police Reforms in War-Torn Societies. Conflict, Security and Development, Vol. 1, No. 1 (April 2001): 21-43
Website of Amnesty International
Simelane, Hamilton Sipho. The State, Security Dilemma, and the Development of the Private Security Sector in Swaziland, in Private Security in Africa: Manifestations, Challenges and Regulations. Edited by Sabelo Gumedze. ISS Monograph Series 139, 2007.
Website of Amnesty International
Bayley, David H. Who are we kidding? Or Developing Democracy through Police Reform. Workshop Papers and Highlights, Policing in Emerging Democracies, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC
Website of Transparency International Bangladesh
Harris, Frank. The Role of Capacity Building in Police Reform. Pristina, Kosovo: Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo, 2005
ONeill, William G. Police Reform and Human Rights, A HURIST document, UNDP, New York, 2004
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 ONeill, William G. Police Reform and Human Rights, A HURIST document, UNDP, New York, 2004
 Amnesty International Website
 Bayley, David H. Who are we kidding? Or Developing Democracy through Police Reform. Workshop Papers and Highlights, Policing in Emerging Democracies, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC
 Neild, Rachel. Democratic Police Reforms in War-Torn Societies. Conflict, Security and Development, Vol. 1, No. 1 (April 2001): 21-43
 Amnesty International Website
 Transparency International Bangladesh Website