From Warrior To Guardian


The President’s Task Force On 21st Century Policing In The Us & How It Is Relevant To Pakistan

In the absence of serious academic and independent research on the state of affairs of policing in Pakistan, it may be apposite to take clues from the international perspectives. One such perspective was offered as a result of the Ferguson firing case in the US that sparked violent protests and triggered intensive media and government scrutiny. This article is introductory in nature and is divided into three parts: First part will snapshot the Ferguson incident; the second will briefly introduce the Report of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, while the third one will present an analysis of the perspective offered in the Report and its relevance to Pakistan.

The Ferguson Incident

It all began on August 9, 2014 when Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer, received a message that there was a robbery by two people at a place in his area of responsibility. He responded to it and confronted two black youth namely Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson. He engaged them and fired at one of them i.e. Brown who died on the spot. Wilson had fired twelve bullets. How the incident actually took place is a matter of some controversy. However, after proceedings at different levels, Wilson was found justified in exercising his right to self-defence, and hence was cleared of violating civil rights on 4th March, 2015.

The Task Force on 21st Century Policing

In response to the whole episode and in reaction to widespread protests, besides taking other steps like conduct of investigation by the US Department of Justice, President Barack Obama through Executive Order 13684 dated 18th December, 2014, established President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. According to Section 3 of the Order, the following was the ‘mission’ assigned to the Task Force:

“The Task Force shall…identify best practices…on how policing practices can promote effective crime reduction while building police trust.”

Charles Ramsey, Commissioner Philadelphia Police Department, and Laurie Robinson, Professor, George Mason University, were appointed as Co-Chairs of the 11-member Task Force. The Task Force’s Report, that was produced in May 2015, consists of over hundred pages and is organized around six main topics or ‘pillars’, which further have recommendations followed by action items for implementation. The detailed recommendations therein may require a fully fledged research article for discussion; however, it may be appropriate to introduce the six pillars discussed in the Report. It may, however, be noted that out of these six pillars, the first pillar (trust and legitimacy) offers a theoretical perspective, which may be utilized for analysis as far as its relevance to Pakistan is concerned.

Briefly, these six pillars are:

PILLAR 1: Building Trust & Legitimacy

The gist of this pillar revolves around two concepts: trust and legitimacy. The conceptual basis of the trust component comes from the police not acting as an occupying force as was observed in the Report in the following words:

“…Law Enforcement cannot build community trust if it is seen as an occupying force coming in from outside to impose control on the community.”

It is further fortified when the police act as guardians and not as warriors. The Report noted:

“…Why are we training police officers like soldiers? Although police officers wear uniforms and carry weapons, the similarity ends there…The soldier’s mission is that of a warrior: to conquer…The police officer’s mission is that of a guardian: to protect…Soldiers must follow orders. Police officers must make independent decisions. Soldiers come into the communities as an outside, occupying force. Guardians are members of the community, protecting from within.”

The second component of legitimacy revolves around procedural justice. The Report notes:

“…the public confers legitimacy only on those they believe are acting in procedurally just ways. Procedurally just behavior is based on four central principles:

  1. Treating people with dignity and respect
  2. Giving individuals ‘voice’ during encounters
  3. Being neutral and transparent in decision making
  4. Conveying trustworthy motives…”
    Trust and legitimacy, according to the Report, are sine qua nons (conditions indispensable) for laying the foundation of police culture and organization.

PILLAR 2: Policy & Oversight

The second pillar is based on the principles of transparency and participation. The Report has put forth as many as fifteen specific recommendations related to this pillar. It requires police departments to devise predefined policies on different aspects of police working especially with reference to controlling the use of force. Thus, in order to ensure systemic improvement in the working of police departments, the departments have been encouraged to collect data on different aspects of their working. It also requires some sort of civilian oversight with the participation of the community to build trust of the community and to remain accountable to it.


PILLAR 3: Technology & Social Media

The use of technology, according to the Report, can be a game-changer for the law enforcement. The technology from body-worn cameras (BWC) to unmanned aircraft is available, but it must be subjected to predefined framework and its unintended consequences must be examined before its employment. The Report contains US-specific technological recommendations, but the underlying principles of its employment may be useful for other police organizations as well.

PILLAR 4: Community Policing & Crime Reduction

The description of the fourth pillar starts with the definition of community policing, as given by the US Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. It says:

“Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.”

The US is following a fully fledged, research-based philosophy of community policing. It is based on the premise that ‘officers enforce the law with the people not just on the people’.

PILLAR 5: Training & Education

The training must keep pace with the social changes and be specialization based with emphasis on procedural justice. The Report notes:

“A starting point for changing the culture of policing is to change the culture of training academies.”

It recommended crisis intervention training (CIT) for all police organizations in the US. One of the action items related to this pillar suggested having ‘top down training of all officers in cultural diversity’.

PILLAR 6: Officer Wellness & Safety

The Report has noted:

“The ‘bulletproof cop’ does not exist. The officers who protect us must also be protected…”

The job of police officers is risk-prone. Their welfare and safety has direct impact on their performance and their interaction with the community. The Report has highlighted specific measures like issuance of first-aid kits and anti-ballistic vests to police officers to bolster their safety.

Linking the Perspective to Pakistan

How the Pillar 1 (Trust & Legitimacy) and the perspective offered by it are relevant to Pakistan? Two reasons may be used to establish the relevance:

First, the provenance of Pakistan’s policing system sits in colonial mindset, which is modelled on Irish Constabulary model of policing;

Second, in the post-Independence scenario, the military influenced the law-enforcement apparatus in the country and its mindset has dominated the culture, training, strategies and processes of police organizations in Pakistan.

In elucidating the trust component of the Pillar 1, it was stated that occupying force’s (read colonial) mindset must be changed to improve the working and procedures of a police organization. Perhaps this is the reason that Professor Ilhan Niaz, in his book, “The Culture of Power and Governance of Pakistan,” concluded that ‘…the pre-British and the post-colonial present and future bear even greater resemblance to each other’. Therefore, first and foremost important thing for any reform in police is to foster public trust in them. This aspect, however, has been tangentially addressed in some of the reform reports produced on the subject (according to a report titled the Police Organizations in Pakistan by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, twenty-one reports on police-related reforms were produced from 1948 to 2000).

As far as legitimacy component is concerned, it is important that procedural justice be brought at the heart of the criminal justice system of Pakistan, which, unfortunately, is not the case at present. The procedure is looked down upon and insistence on its adherence is seen as a weakness and a frailty. The point may be better illustrated by what General Ayub Khan said in 1967 on the eve of centenary of the West Pakistan High Court. He said:

“Why can’t our courts become the courts of justice instead of courts of law…”

His viewpoint is emblematic of the thinking that prevails at the heart of the justice system of Pakistan: the intentions of those who advocate such views may be noble, but we should not forget that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In order to improve Pakistan’s criminal justice system, especially its policing component, there is much that can be borrowed from the perspective on trust and legitimacy. At the end, a disclaimer may be necessary to put the things in context: the author does not parrot the latest cliché extant in the US; the purpose is only to suggest a perspective with the recommendation to marshal it according to indigenous needs of Pakistan.

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