Saturday June 22, 2024

Procedures for policing

By Imaan Mazari-hazir And Mohammad Raza
April 25, 2020

Whether there is a ‘strict’ lockdown or a ‘relaxed’ one, there is a need for clearly outlined standard operating procedures for law enforcement personnel enforcing either version of the lockdown.

These SOPs should apply to those present at police stations and in our prisons as well. The safety of our law-enforcement personnel should be the primary goal of these SOPs. That can be ensured through several fairly straightforward measures that can be almost immediately adopted.

First, ensuring that all law-enforcement personnel are provided with essential hygiene products, including alcohol-based hand sanitizer and soap. The personnel on duty should be equipped with minimum protective gear, which includes masks or respirators (n95 or equivalent) and gloves. The IG police in each area should be responsible for conducting safety briefings with IG Operations, DIG Operations, SSP Operations, SP and DSP/ASP. Further, the DSP/ASP should be in-charge of conducting safety briefings with the SHOs of all police stations, and the SHO of each police station, in turn, should be responsible for conducting safety briefings with Additional SHO (SI/ASI), muahrar, tafteeshi and constables.

These safety briefings should cover protection from exposure, which includes explaining social distancing, proper hand hygiene, the need to clean and disinfect duty belts and gear; and the correct procedure for removing and disposing off masks and gloves. Additionally, the safety briefings should also cover responses to exposure, explaining how to contact medical services; the need to immediately inform the relevant department/unit when experiencing symptoms or coming into contact with Covid-positive patients; and reducing risk of transmission.

Our law-enforcement officials are, along with doctors, nurses and medical staff, in direct and constant contact with citizens. Their safety and protection must be our priority. Simultaneously, ensuring an environment of cooperation in these testing times should also be a priority.

There have been several confrontations between law-enforcement personnel and citizens across various cities. It is crucial here that certain basic guidelines be followed by the law-enforcement agencies with respect to enforcing restrictions on movement. Non-essential movement of citizens needs to be restricted and that includes recreational movement or any movement other than for unavoidable work-related reasons, movement for essential services or situations of need or movements for health reasons. Law-enforcement officials and citizens alike need to be fully cognizant of this distinction between essential and non-essential movement.

While enforcing these restrictions on movement, it is imperative that law-enforcement personnel exercise their powers to enforce a return-to-home order but this must be balanced against the consideration that many citizens do not have access to housing. In the latter case, law-enforcement personnel, instead of beating them, should direct or escort them to the nearest Dar-ul-Aman. Moreover, citizens must be made aware that they should carry on them their national identity cards in public spaces as, during this time, law-enforcement officials are well within their powers to inquire as to the purpose of movement. In fact, if our law enforcement agencies are instructed to maintain records of this movement, it may actually assist in identification and tracking when future containment efforts are being undertaken.

Use of force must not be permitted against citizens, whether in the course of identification or dispersal. Similarly, law-enforcement personnel cannot inflict upon citizens torture or any form of degrading or humiliating treatment or punishment. This is a concern, which must be addressed especially when dealing with citizens from lower income neighbourhoods and/or katchi abaadis, as well as citizens belonging to ethnic and religious minorities (or other vulnerable communities). We must ensure our policing respects international human rights standards, thus reducing the risk of riots and clashes.

Our policing must also ensure that persons, especially belonging to lower income groups, are not unnecessarily and arbitrarily harassed or arrested during this time. An appropriate mechanism needs to be developed, under which citizens are penalized/fined for lockdown violations and a possibility for other legal action remains open where a third violation is committed by any one person.

At least 90 prisoners have tested positive for Covid-19 in Punjab alone. Therefore, alongside pushing legislation that facilitates release of under-trial inmates and/or those who are serving time for minor offences, the government must also work towards ensuring reduction of risk vis-à-vis jails and detention facilities. The IG Prisons in each province must carry out an immediate risk assessment to ascertain specific public health concerns in each facility; hygiene and safety of food and medical supply, administrative units, prison cells, visitor’s areas and jail transport vehicles; availability of healthcare services; number of prisoners with underlying health conditions; number of under-trial prisoners; number of particularly vulnerable prisoners, such as the elderly, differently-abled, mothers and children; and mechanisms of coordination and cooperation between detention/jail authorities and public health officials.

How we are able to deal with this challenge relies, in large part, on how we work as a collective. As with any collective, there are bound to be tensions and problems but a clear mechanism must be provided through which redressal of these issues can take place. Citizens should be able to register complaints with their deputy commissioners and alternatively, as per routine course, through the 1099 helpline of the Ministry of Human Rights.

We have to constantly remind ourselves that the potential for a disastrous breakdown in the law and order situation is a real possibility. In the midst of a pandemic, this is something that translates to irreparable damage. It is for this reason that the relevant government stakeholders must work with civil society organizations during this time.

We have prepared detailed SOPs in this regard, dealing with the issues discussed above as well as other important and ancillary issues alike. As part of the Corona Solidarity Campaign, we have shared these SOPs with the Ministry of Human Rights in Islamabad as well as other stakeholders, and hope to now reach out to the provinces, in our capacity as a civil society group.

The writers are lawyers.