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Is there a problem, officer?

  • Published at 11:53 pm August 26th, 2019
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Photo shows member of police stand guard somewhere in Dhaka Dhaka Tribune

In Bangladesh, the police abuse their powers to search and stop

In Bangladesh, the power to stop and search is not used fairly and responsibly. At several check posts or points, police officers carry out their functions with unlawful discrimination, harassment, and victimization. 

The general public, especially university-going students, are very prone to the ill and unfair treatment exhibited by the police. Bribery in the police force has become so common that people don’t even talk about it anymore.

Being a woman, my bag was checked by a male police officer and, upon asking them the reason, they replied that young adults engage in drug abuse, supplies, and other unlawful activities irrespective of their gender. 

I was shocked and embarrassed as there were many elderly pedestrians enjoying the scene with silence. Later, they added that women cannot be trusted and asked me to bribe them. 

Sadly, I did pay them some money. On my way for an interview, I questioned myself as to why I hadn’t protested. Why did I bribe them? I left traumatized. 

The intrusion on the liberty of the person who is stopped and searched is never brief. And at times, execution of powers to stop and search leads to violent outcomes. 

When police officers discharge their functions, they also have to keep in mind that such discharge of functions must be free from unlawful discrimination, harassment, and victimization.

It is also their duty to foster good relations and peace between them and the individuals who are being stopped and searched. If these fundamental values are not observed, the use of powers to stop and search may be drawn into question. 

Stop and search can play an important role in the detection and prevention of crimes and its key purpose is to enable officers to allay or confirm suspicions about individuals without exercising their powers of arrest. Failing to use the powers in a proper manner reduces their usefulness.

Stop and search must not be violent and should be made with the consent of the person. If an individual voluntarily submits, officers are entitled to show a cause -- a reasonable one. 

Police officers should exercise stop and search powers without consent in places like stadiums, malls, or processions to avoid serious attacks or violence where a significant number of people have gathered for a particular purpose. 

The officers can stop and search persons without consent against whom complaints, facts, or information have been received. In that case, a warrant can be issued and an arrest can be made, if needed.

The police officers must have genuine information that such a person is in possession of arms, drugs, or other unlawful objects and believe that he/she will discover the object being unlawfully carried around. 

However, this does not prevent stop and search powers being exercised in other locations where reasonable suspicion exists. Forcible search may be made only if the person who is being searched is resisting and unwilling to co-operate. Reasonable force and detention of the person should be used as a last resort for the purpose of a search. 

The exercise of stop and search power by officers must be supervized and monitored. Records of their performance of stop and search must be kept as evidence as the general public may allege that the police exercised such powers on the basis of stereotype or inappropriate generalization. 

Supervising or monitoring officers should assure that such processes are not conducted in an exploitive manner. Installation of body cameras can be an alternative if the supervisor fails to record the actions and functions of the police officers in person.

As citizens of Bangladesh, everyone has the right to protect the law and to enjoy being protected by the law.

Therefore, a citizen may not interfere with a police investigation with the intention to obstruct it. 

Section 34 of the Police Act empowers police officers to impose a fine not exceeding Tk50 or eight days’ imprisonment for causing inconvenience, obstruction, annoyance, risk, danger, or damage on the streets.

According to Section 18 of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance, 1976, all persons shall be bound to conform to the reasonable directions of a police-officer given in fulfillment of any of his duties under this ordinance. 

Section 186 of the Penal Code 1860 states that whoever voluntarily obstructs any public servant in the discharge of his public functions shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with a fine which may extend to Tk500, or with both. But these laws are repeatedly misused by the police. 

Searches are effective and acceptable to law-abiding citizens only when they are based on accurate, current intelligence or information and free from corruption. It also helps in justifying the use of power to stop and search to both -- those who are searched and to the public. 

Sarmin Akther is a graduate of law from North South University.