Urban Policing and
Police Reforms in Pakistan
Police and policing face many challenges in Pakistan. From retrograde legal framework to archaic criminal and business processes, all sorts of perceptions are associated with these challenges. One amongst the key challenges is urban policing which is not only nationally important but has international significance as well. For example, the Introduction to the Handbook on Policing Urban Spaces, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2011, noted:
“… Owing to the unique characteristics of cities, urban policing is a central governance challenge facing high-income countries as well as low- and middle-income countries as diverse as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.”
Statistically, Pakistan records increase in urbanization: the 2017 census has shown that 36.4% of the country’s population is living in cities, as compared to 32.5% in 1998. This is in line with global trends of increasing urbanization as over half the world’s population now lives in cities. Rapid urbanization is a complex phenomenon as it affects society, aetiology of crime and response of state to the crime. Contextualized in this backdrop, it is apt to examine how discourse on police reforms in Pakistan has looked at urban policing. In this regard, the following points merit consideration:
1. Literature on Police Reforms
There are over three dozen official reports on police reforms in Pakistan. These reports constitute literature that must be treated as a point of departure on the subject. Urban policing did not get much attention in earlier reports. The 2019 Police Reforms Committee Report (hereinafter PRC Report), however, was the first report to have expended special attention to urban policing. Its terms of reference, inter alia, required:
“Suggest revamping of urban policing by changing basic administrative structure, introducing better quality of command and control to ensure quick decision making and rapid response to meet public order challenges as well as quality of access to the citizens seeking justice.”
Chapter 3 of the PRC Report analyzed this term of reference. It noted that police organizations in Pakistan are predominantly rural in nature. The recommendations included re-organization of police in cities, functional specialization (operations, investigation, traffic, public relations, law and order and information technology wings), use of information technology and community participation in alternate dispute resolution, etc. The PRC Report also recommended establishment of urban police stations and proposed the following:
“Each urban centre shall have one police station for roughly 250,000 to 500,000 citizens called a Police Division. By this standard, Lahore shall have 20-25 Police Divisions instead of the current 88 police stations. The area of three to four present police stations with the right geographic contiguity shall be merged to form one Police Division.”
The recommendations contained in the PRC Report were sent to the Federation and the Provinces for consideration and implementation.
2. Police Order, 2002
The Police Order, 2002, repealed the colonial Police Act, 1861, and introduced the concept of city police organization in big cities of the country. Accordingly, it proposed that city police chiefs be appointed in metropolitan cities. The concept was implemented in all the provinces as the capital cities were declared as ‘city police’ organizations with different police organizations from the ‘rural districts’. After the Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment, however, the police law was treated as a provincial subject, resulting in provincial police laws in the country. The KP Police Act, 2017, and Sindh Police Act, 2019, retained the urban features conceived by the Police Order, 2002. The oversight mechanisms involving elected people were, however, never fully implemented. The Police Order, 2002, though not perfect, tried to address some of the challenges of the urban policing.
3. Safe Cities and Data Analytics
With the introduction of first Safe City in the Punjab through the Punjab Safe Cities Authority Act, 2016, information technology was introduced at institutional level to deal with urban policing. The strength of safe cities was the use of information technology which was to be coupled with data analytics that required linkages with provincial and national data warehouses in the country. For urban policing, the technology had the promise of indiscriminate application of law and to bridge the gap of disorganization of urban spaces that are characterized by anonymity.
4. Community Policing
Community policing has the unique distinction of being a philosophy, a strategy and a tactic, simultaneously. In the context of urban policing, the Police Order, 2002, provided the legal basis of Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC). The Handbook on Policing Urban Spaces acknowledges community policing as a technique of urban policing. The collaboration between community and police leadership often helps in prevention of crimes as communities help in strengthening neighbourhood watch apparatus. Alternate Dispute Resolution mechanisms also need community participation and, through this arrangement, they help in establishing informal social control in the urban spaces.
5. Traffic Management and Road Safety
Urban centres are conspicuous by their traffic management and road safety issues. There have been experiments of introducing warden traffic management system in cities, but the road safety could not fully improve as the supply of vehicles on roads has not been fully regulated. The enforcement, engineering and education of traffic regulations have not been successful as the legal framework is extremely feeble and outdated. The architecture of road safety has to be considerably strengthened to complement urban policing paradigm, which has its focus on crime control and regulation.
6. Interface with Local Government
Equation of urban policing is deeply seated in governance system of a city. In case of Pakistan, policing is treated as a provincial subject and, therefore, the locus of control lies at regional, and not at the city, level. The asymmetrical relationship of local government with urban policing must be carefully calibrated to ensure effectiveness and efficiency.
7. Linkages with National Security
National security must be linked with urban policing to reassure urban population about their security and safety. The counter-terrorism part of urban policing requires intelligence based operations with adequate safeguards for privacy and human rights. The extremism and vigilante propensities must be addressed through alternate strategies to minimize kinetic action within urban spaces.
8. Gender-Based Violence and Child Protection
The commonality of urban population requires that women, children and vulnerable groups of society must be protected. Prevention of gender-based violence (GBV) and child protection are two tests that define the effectiveness of urban policing. Unfortunately, cities in Pakistan show alarming rise in both the categories and police leadership has to work hard to reassure women and children about its response and victim support. Legislation on both the subjects has been enhancing punishments without adding dedicated resources to equip police to combat GBV and crimes against children on sustainable basis. Sex offenders registry with not only the convicted but also the accused, may be a good solution with exchange of information at international level with other urban centres to ensure that perpetrators with recidivist tendencies are spotted and kept away from vulnerable segments of society.
Urban policing must be brought central to police and criminal justice reforms in Pakistan. Theoretical underpinning of leftist realism in criminology requires that not only the causes of crime, but also the steady increase in crime over a period of time be checked by police as a primary agent of the state. In doing so, elastic police organizations while communicating with other government agencies must work with community to reduce urban violence and to increase public confidence in their capabilities.
The author is an independent researcher and has done his BCL from the University of Oxford. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org