24 - 30 October 2014 #729

Good cop, bad cop

Nepal Police needs a overhaul in its behavior, not just its uniforms
Guna Raj Luitel
We were sitting in G Café in Baudha, enjoying the glorious autumn weather with dozens of other tourists and young people. Suddenly, there was a commotion outside and a group of police entered the room with a sniffer dog in tow.

The police wanted to go into the kitchen, but owner Vishwa Maskey argued with them: “Pets are not allowed in the kitchen, it’s against the law,” he said.  The police then climbed to the upper floors, which was a residential area, and inspected that too.

Maskey was furious. “Can police just come inside your home or place of business without a warrant?” he asked. A group of police entering a home or business has a negative impact on the owner in the neighbourhood, and taints the reputation of the innocent. When it is a restaurant, it can impact on business.

I put that question to advocate Madhav Kumar Basnet. “The police can’t enter into any restaurant or hotel without prior notice,” he replied, “and entering a kitchen with a sniffer dog is actually a breach of the law.”

That is a pertinent question at a time when the Nepal Police, which is the guardian of the law, seems to flout its own regulations by invading private space, treating everyone as guilty until proven innocent and randomly stopping anyone on the street in the name of security or alcohol abuse by drivers. As the SAARC Summit approaches, this paranoia about security is only going to get worse.

A citizen or a business has the right to know why it is being searched, a warrant is necessary. Law enforcement officials have no right to just walk into private property. So, Maskey went to the neighbour police station to lodge a complaint. A senior policeman said he had no idea why G Café had been searched, but he had a hunch.

“Mathiko Adesh hunuparchha,” he said, using the catch-all term passing the buck to some unnamed higher-up authority which allows police to get away with anything.

Maskey’s plight forces us to ponder rampant abuse of authority by Police which seems to have become a law onto itself. Some of the measures taken by Traffic Police against drinking and driving have yielded results, but there is an emphasis on addressing petty infringements like jay-walking and lane indiscipline when more serious crimes go unpunished.

Park buses on a public sidewalk, and the syndicate faces no punishment, but park your motorcycle in the same space and the police slaps a fine. One motorcyclist who turned on his headlights in the daytime for safety reasons was recently stopped by a cop and told to turn it off or face a fine.

And yet, ear-piercing air horns blast the streets outside hospitals, trucks on the Ring Road belch acrid black carcinogenic diesel smoke and no one pulls them up.

We have an interesting phenomenon in Nepal where the police aggressively tries to make its presence felt everywhere: whether it is barking rudely at the x-ray machine at the airport (especially at migrant workers) or being arrogant and abusive towards drivers for no reason at all, it is as if the uniform is a license to be rude.

You don’t ensure security by a heavy and visible presence, it is done by melting into the crowd, going under-cover or silent sleuthing. Any Police Academy would teach that to its cadets, and ours should also include a class in public relations and establish a protocol for talking to the public firmly, but politely.

Lately, the police’s high-handedness has got a boost from the arbitrary and misguided attempt by their boss-in-chief, Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam at moral policing. He issued an edict that Tihar celebrations should end at 7PM (later amended to 9PM after a public outcry).

Check into a hotel with a female relative these days and the cops pounce on you – they come to the firm conclusion that you are with a prostitute. Even if she is a girlfriend, or a mistress what business is it of the police? So what if a man and a woman are completing a transaction of a sexual nature? They aren’t building a bomb or plotting a terrorist attack, for god’s sake.

There are good cops and bad cops, of course. And, to be fair, police at checkpoints have become more civil these days, and don’t treat you as a criminal for just sitting in the driver’s seat. Recently, the Nepal Police changed its uniform as part of its image makeover. They should know it doesn’t matter what they wear, what is important is how they behave, whether they follow the law, and whether they are effective in busting the really serious crime in the capital. As Deng Xiao Ping said: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.”


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