Beyond Plicing Role of the Civil Society

Published : 9:58 am  September 3, 2015 | No comments so far |  |  (562) reads | 


Sri Lanka Police Day falls on September 03. This  article provides an insight into improving the operational functions of the police through public participation

In every civilized society, a police system exists for the common good of the entire community. World over, the primary duty of any Police Force is the prevention and the detection of crime and criminal law enforcement and to maintain public tranquility.
Based on the nature of the structure of the State and its organs and the system of law and justice, the functions of the police vary from country to country. Due to 130 years of British colonial rule, Sri Lanka inherited a police system similar to that of its former colonial rulers – the United Kingdom.

In many countries including Sri Lanka, the laws and statutes specify the functions of the Police Force. However, it meets with misunderstanding and often veiled opposition when it seeks to assert its preventive and social role. This attitude which is widespread among the public, must be changed.

Law and Order is the basic foundation of any civilized society. The most fundamental issue for the police is dealing with the community. Over the passage of time the tasks of the police in serving the community have become more complex and extensive. The culture of the police is totally divergent compared to that of other State Apparatus, which needs to be understood by the society.

When the police  exercise the maintenance of law and order, they are often criticised for its coercive role, while on the other, its attempts at purely preventive and social work are ill-received. “That’s not its job” is often heard with allusion to the alleged incompatibility between its coercive functions and its preventive aspirations.

Police certainly could do better with the active participation of the community. The civic community must support compliance with the rule of law, instead of looking to the police as merely an institution responsible for controlling criminality, public tranquility and/or Law and Order.  A case in point is the recently-concluded General Election.

Compliance with most laws does not depend upon the likelihood of them being enforced, but upon the acceptance of informal norms and a concern for the feelings of others. The participation of all social institutions in the maintenance of peace and public order is a must

The public well understood the importance of good behaviour and obedience to Rule of Law.  This perceptive approach made the role of the police relatively uncomplicated for them to discharge their duties for the conduct of a fair and a peaceful election. It undoubtedly enhanced the public trust towards the police. Even in the context of ‘Good Governance’ the President and the Prime Minister are looking forward to bring-forth the public adherence to discipline and observance of the rule of law undoubtedly rest as pre-requisites.

Efforts to prevent crime must therefore include the teaching of conventional values. It  is also neccessary to find ways to strengthen individual bonds to society, commitment to the conventional order and participation in conventional  activities. The best way is to strengthen the Institutions that socialise people  and continue to regulate their behaviours throughout life – the family, the school and the work place.

Thus, the solution to control crime has a combination of multiple factors, to put it very simply, the public behaviour, their perception; attitudes; more importantly obedience to law, respect for authority, upholding values, investment in customs and traditions – they all play a role that will certainly be supportive in the maintenance of law and order by the police.

The civil society essentially needs to  be a driving force to support the police in the  flow of information to curb crime. Therefore, the conception of its vocation in the field of crime prevention must, at the outset, be shared by all those who are capable of helping the police through moral influence.

Policing in a Democratic Society is a Public Political Function, subjected to civilian oversight, with the community finally responsible for all the processes dealing with crime and criminals. What the police do, how they do, how well they fulfil the expectations, how professional they are and what improvements they need are political questions, inevitably need to be viewed as pre-requisites for enhancement and enforcement of the Laws.

Compliance with most laws does not depend upon the likelihood of them being enforced, but upon the acceptance of informal norms and a concern for the feelings of others. The participation of all social institutions in the maintenance of peace and public order is a must.
History reveals that crime has been analysed in the last century from every aspect; biological  theological, sociological, psychological and economical.

The evolution theory has taught us that we evolved from an animal state where killing and being killed was part of nature’s design. Millions of years have passed and we have shed most of our instincts. Our minds are however, still pre-occupied with the most predatory instincts and society is pervaded by overt and covert forms of violence, generating a general climate of irrationality.

No police system in this world has ever succeeded by functioning in isolation to effectively deal with crime prevention and law and order without the active support of the community. It is in this theoretical matrix, the community role and responsibility in crime prevention has to be viewed decisively.


In a democratic society, the police function depends to a considerable degree on self-policing by every citizen. This dictum comes in to play a pivotal role as law observance is the most salient part of Law Enforcement. Traffic Management is a case in point. The police spend a great deal of time and resources doing it, but most of the operations are done by motorists who have to abide by the road rules. Hence, the order cannot be secured only through fear of punishment. The public needs to essentially obey the “Rule of Law”.

However, the current social behaviour is that many people become preoccupied with their own personal issues and pay little attention to larger community problems. This situation has distanced the people from supporting the police by way of providing true and genuine information and responsiveness to curb crime and for productive enforcement action.

Further, a large number of today’s youth do not submit to traditional behaviour controls, in or out of school. Problems of discipline loom large in and around class rooms. School behaviour, especially at the upper levels, is often marginally criminal, often violent, as many witness with the newly emerged ‘demonstration culture’, turning dangerous and frightening. Teachings at school levels and homes and improving the quality of instructions and monitoring the activities and behaviours of students will improve the discipline and order to make children to be good citizens.

Therefore, mutual assistance among the various components of the society will certainly encourage the police to become more functional. In this context not only the police but the people too have a vital role to play.

Public interest in the Police Community Relationship at times surmounts adversely when civic peace and order are threatened by dissident groups in street demonstrations and the like. Often these events spill over into violence and police are quickly accused of being ‘villains’ forgetting the fact they are guardians of the Law. Citizens must understand that the prevention of violent situations is not the responsibility of the police alone. A just social order for all is the ultimate answer and reaching this goal is a vital responsibility of the community.   


It is unlikely that many instances of police action have ever been completely satisfactory to everyone concerned; for no matter how brilliant or efficient it may be, it is at most times not viewed with enthusiasm by the thwarted or apprehended offender or his or her family, and/or interest groups. Therefore, community needs to alter this adversarial element in the relationship with the police, allowing the police to carry out its responsibilities.

polThe public has frequently taken the position of not wanting to get involved and then point ing the finger of blame at the police for rising crime. This is not to say that the police can simply point the finger of blame back at the public. What it means is that the responsibility of an efficient Police Force is two-way; it needs public support to deter offenders working against society.

The information that enables the police to exert formal control must be supported by the people. However, information must be truthful and should not be brought-forth due to other dubious reasons. Such irresponsible transgressions will only divert the attention of the police on a wrong trail, making the end result negative.

They must  be the ones who are the major reporters of crime, witnesses of crime and accusers of wrong doers-they are the information sources for the police. This approach of the public will exemplify the problem solving nearness to police in which citizens could function as the eyes and ears of the police. The job of the police will be easy if the citizens also obey the rules of Law.

Abraham Maslow has said that “when one’s only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. The public participation in assisting the police is two-folds:  to be disciplined and to cooperate with the police in the prevention of crime and the preservation of public tranquility. The creation of this kind of community requires the collaborative effort of all social agencies as a complementary option to conventional Law Enforcement.