Police reforms: Official position have to be purchased



Masud Khabeki

Addressing police corruption is essential to maintain public order and the rule of law, to support the legitimacy of the state and to maintain or restore public trust in democratic processes and institutions. In the context, elimination of corruption might be a top priority in police reforms. Empirical evidence suggests that strengthening the accountability of law enforcement institutions is of critical importance to effectively combat corruption and break the circle of impunity, especially in countries like Pakistan that are affected by high level of organized crime even though the crime is committed by an individual. Because, the fluid nature of corruption make things unpredictable and further making it difficult to form anti-corruption strategies especially within the police department.

Very few police forces or police departments around the world are capable of operating for long stretches of time with relatively little scandal. Secondly, the exposure of police corruption, while frequently necessary to urge reform, can have the undesirable effect of destroying the morale of the police force on the whole. Although this is a far lesser problem than the continuation of corruption. Thirdly, while the motivations behind corruption might be similar in vastly different environments, local traditions and structures meant that effective reforms need to be tailored to the targeted locations. In other words, we have to adopt indigenous strategies to combat corruption according to our environment and culture in each and every department including police force. Several best practices emerged from the literature and case studies that could be consulted to take guidelines from successful experiences. As a general rule, for anti-corruption strategies to be successful and comprehensive they need to be embedded in the broader framework of democratic institution-building. Police reform clearly needs to be grounded in the political and social realities of the country and the characteristics of the local police rather than adopting a “one size fits all” approach. While some aspects of police corruption and misconduct appear to be universal, others are unique to, or at least more salient in some contexts and cultures.

Before the Rose Revolution of 2003, the Georgian police was blamed to have close connection with organized crime, and the drug trade in particular. Police corruption was influencing in tarnishing the country’s reputation for overt corruption in society. Since Traffic Police officers were indulged in extortion of bribes from drivers and involved in passing a portion of their gains to their superiors. The trend was influencing almost all the government departments across the country. Corruption within the police and other state organs in Georgia was so deeply institutionalized that an official position had to be purchased, and taking bribes was seen as a necessity to repay this initial investment. With the election of Mikheil Saakashvili as president in 2004, the new government immediately targeted the corrupt police service. The reforms saw mass dismissals of police and Ministry of Internal Affairs officials, allowing for increased salaries. There was also institutional restructuring and service provision by eliminating several agencies and shifting mandates by limiting police to law enforcement only. Salary, training and personnel policy for the police were also significantly overhauled and revamped. The reform included education for police officers to train them to enhance professionalism, awareness and adherence to human rights and the rule of law. Strategy was adopted to target highly visible areas of corruption to quickly enhance public trust in state institutions and the reform of the traffic police had an immediate positive effect on the lives of ordinary Georgians. However, despite its successes, there is evidence that high-level misconduct persists in the Georgian police force and weak accountability of police structures remains a significant problem. Further, there is a mixed record on the human rights protections afforded by the police. The lack of adequate checks and balances always ruin any kind of reforms to eliminate corruption within a department like police where officials usually exercise huge amount of discretion. A corrupt police force without check and balances is always regarded and perceived not as protectors of the citizens but rather of executive interests. Recently an attempt has been made in our country to subjugate the police by the Pakistan Administrative Group on the pretext of reforms and fortunately opposed  by all corners and stakeholders within the society.

The second notable reforms to eliminate corruption within the police department were seen in Singapore. Police corruption was rampant in Singapore during the British colonial period. Analyses of police corruption in colonial Singapore indicate that it was the result of a series of factors including, low salaries, poor working conditions, a high degree of formalism in the police force, poor recruitment and selection procedures, a lack of training programs, and ample opportunities for corruption due to inadequate controls. Measures to tackle corruption in the police force were introduced in 1952 with the establishment of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB). Since then, a myriad of reforms has reduced corruption within the Singaporean Police Force. Corruption among the police in Singapore is now very low, and Singapore is placed equal sixth in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (Transparency International 2017).

The reasons for Singapore’s success are considered to be fourfold. One the political will and the commitment of the government, secondly the salaries and working conditions, thirdly the recruitment and selection procedures and the training and socialization. Again, it is important to note the social, political and economic context in which these reforms took place in Singapore, as we can take lessons from these reforms but cannot implement these reforms on the whole. Singapore is neither a developing nor a post-conflict country like Pakistan, as it has enjoyed decades of political stability and benefited from a considerable head start in the development of an independent anti-corruption body. Further, its small size means it must contend with few of the problems encountered by geographically sparse countries. This does nothing to detract from Singapore’s success, but suggests that countries requiring police reform might need a considerable period of time before truly positive results can be expected. It is pertinent to note that Pakistan has facing immense problems due to the troubled borders, migration issues and conflicts in surrounding countries since independence, resultantly if we adopt this model, we have to introduce few innovations.

While, the third example of a state that has been particularly successful in reducing corruption including police corruption is Hong Kong. Mass demonstrations in 1966 and 1973 saw the Hong Kong public demand that the authorities control corruption, especially in the police service. In response, the Hong Kong authorities established the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in 1974, one of the most highly regarded anti-corruption bodies in the world. From an institutional perspective, the establishment of ICAC was essential for holding the police accountable but also for enhancing institutional capacity in maintaining political order. The high degree of institutional continuity and integrity is one of the hallmarks of the Hong Kong ICAC. Simultaneously, organizational reforms to the Hong Kong Police Force occurred with legal and regulatory instruments developed to ensure the proper ethical discharge of police duties which impose disciplinary measures on officers guilty of offences contained in the regulation. Other preventive measures were also put in place, including transparent recruitment procedures and robust selection procedures. Integrity management has also been incorporated into the organizational structure of the Hong Kong Police Force through education and culture building, governance and control, enforcement and deterrence, rehabilitation and support.

There are many factors that could account for the low level of police corruption in Hong Kong. First is the institutional integrity of the internal and external control mechanisms within the police department. The multi-pronged approach toward police anti-corruption in Hong Kong has created an institutional structure that discourages rent-seeking behavior by the police. Second, the development of a values-based framework within the police force has facilitated the creation of a corruption-free organizational setup. In particular, the emphasis placed on professionalism, integrity and honesty is considered important in establishing a service-oriented police culture. Third, the high degree of fairness in the working environment and predictability in determining the pay and benefits of police force personnel is considered to be a factor discouraging police corruption. We in Pakistan have to look for the indigenous remedies to fight corruption not only in police, in our criminal justice system but in all provincial and federal departments along with democratic institutions.


Masud Khabeki is adjunct faculty Criminology at Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi