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Management Cops vs Street Cops

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Dr Tariq Rustam

The advent and growth of social media has spawned a new era of self-broadcasting which has given people an almost unrestrained freedom to express themselves. This in many ways is useful in terms of giving voice to the voiceless and oppressed but has its flip side as well. In the last couple of years or so, a number of writings and audio/video clips have appeared on social media in which the senior command of the police (management cops) was subject to harsh criticism and at times blatant bashing by the subordinate officers (street or police station cops).

The theme of these outbursts is a series of allegations against the senior command regarding welfare of the subordinates, skewed distribution of resources within the police, disproportionately harsh punishments, inhuman treatment of the juniors. At time allegation of corruption is also part of such blazes.

For a disciplined force like police the phenomenon has a particular significance and implications. Such wayward behavior on the part of subordinate officers poses an existential threat to an organization which espouses discipline as its core value. Whereas it is crucial to curb such indiscipline and wayward behavior among the members of the uniformed force, there is no harm in accepting that not all of these effusions are totally wrong. Some of the observations are quiet pertinent and need serious consideration.

For instance, the working and living conditions in the police station are by no means satisfactory. Poor logistical support in terms of transport, lodging and feeding are chronic issues causing unrest among the lower ranks. Yet another issue of great importance the issues related to seniorities and promotions which cause a lot of heart burning in the subordinates. Given the situation it goes without saying that the senior command has failed to come up to the expectations of the junior ranks.

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However, a deeper analysis helps to put the things in their proper perspective. The gap between the junior and senior ranks in not something unique to Pakistan. In criminological literature the debate of “Management Cop vs the Street Cop” is all about this issue which besets almost all the police forces in the world.  It is indeed a cultural difference which drives a wedge between the top brass and the officers in the field.

There are certain clear features of street cop culture which distinguish it from the culture of management cops.  The police station or street cop has his own perception about policing which differs significantly from the management cops. The street cops think they are the actual law enforcers as they work in the field and have a deeper knowledge of the ground realities and know better ‘what works’ in the core policing.  For them rules and procedures are more of handicaps in the achievements of desired results.

They consider the higher officers sitting behind the tables in their cozy offices have little idea of real policing and the difficulties involved while working in the field. In our context this goes beyond simple difference of perception and turns into a class conflict of a sort wherein the management cops are viewed as exploiters who are selfish and insensitive to the needs and aspirations of junior ranks. They use all the resources for their own comforts instead of utilizing them to improve their plight.

The management cops on the other hand have a different perspective of policing and try to achieve the desired results keeping within the perimeters of laws, rules and procedures. They want the street cops to change their attitude with the public and involve the community in the law enforcement functions. For them the level of police excesses and corruption should go down and the public perception of police should improve which is not possible until the street cop changes his treatment of the public.

The management cops on the other hand have to show results in terms of prevention and detection of crime and maintenance of law and order. The street cops come under pressure to produce the results and try to achieve them in their own style involving excesses, torture and other malpractices and get penalized for that by their senior command and the relations between them are further embittered.

This has created a trust gap between the higher and lower ranks and given birth to a feeling of insecurity amongst the lower ranks. Hence the maxims like ‘good old days’ (when management and street cops were on same page and shared a similar perception of policing), save your ass, don’t trust the bosses to look after your interest, don’t divulge too much, don’t give up another (street) cop etc.

How we have come from good old days to such a pass? Whereas the senior command may be responsible in certain instances, the street cops also need to understand the changed socio-political and legal milieu in which the police as a whole has to operate.

It is true that most of the times it is the street cop who has to bear the brunt of anything untoward, the senior command, too, is not immune to the pressures generated by growing public awareness, expanding power of media, judicial activism and political point scoring. Unnecessary litigation by the ranks has complicated their seniority issues blocking their promotion prospects. Similarly, multiple level inductions by various governments for their political gain has further compounded the problem of promotions but the blame generally is shifted to the higher ranks.

The higher command may not be responsible for much of this conflict but it cannot absolve itself of its responsibility to rectify it. The first thing the management cop needs to do is to bring an attitudinal change, be more humane and empathetic while dealing with the subordinates. Unnecessary use of harsh and sometimes abusive language leaves the wounds which do not heal without leaving the scars. It is unfortunate that some officers always look askance to even the genuine grievances of their juniors.

Though there has been some attention to the welfare of subordinates in recent years yet a lot more is required in terms of medical facilities, education of the children, housing and flexible loan facilities. Improvement in the working conditions in police station like physical environment, working hours, duty rotations, leave and rest can go a long way in providing solace to the subordinates. Similarly, resolving the seniority issues and ensuring timely promotions of subordinate will definitely help in bridging the gap between the seniors and juniors.

Conclusively,‘the good old days’ can come back only when the management cops take the street cops along, make their decision making a bit more democratic to incorporate the views, needs and aspirations of juniors and show, through their actions that they will be at their back through thick and thin.

Dr Tariq Rustam

— The writer is a senior police office having 21 years of experience in policing

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