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Idiots in the force?

/ 12:26 AM March 22, 2014

It goes by a dry, innocuous title—Revised Police Operational Procedures Manual 2013 edition—the sort that makes the eyes glaze over and calls to mind reams of the most banal rules, directives and instructions, all the “should” and “should not,” the “must” and “must not,” that make up the nitty-gritty of everyday police work.

But don’t let the title deceive you. No less than Director General Alan Purisima of the Philippine National Police describes the manual as less the official bedrock of police work and more like an “idiot’s guide” by which “we simplified everything for our policemen to understand the operational procedures.” A guide for idiots! You have to hand it to the PNP chief: He’s not the least bit embarrassed to associate the word with his men. And producing a simplified reference guide does seem to be a practical move in light of the legal scrapes and scandals in which many cops have lately found themselves.

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Yet it begs the question: What then did the cops spend four years for at the PNP Academy?

The revised manual, for instance, reportedly instructs PNP personnel on the importance of preserving a crime scene, and the need to prevent outsiders—the usual usiseros and nosy journalists, say—from tramping all over the area and possibly destroying critical evidence. This is important because policemen should be able to preserve “the credibility of the investigation,” Purisima was quoted as saying.

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Nice. But, uh, isn’t that one of the most basic things a cop has to learn during training? How difficult and arcane are the classes being taught at the police academy that cops need an idiot’s guide to remember all those lessons and directives by the time they’re sent out? More bafflingly, what happens to cops once they’re done with formal classroom training that they so easily lose what has been drilled into them?

Some possibilities: The lessons and training weren’t rigorous enough. Or the standards of acceptance into the police force are not only low but also haphazard, permitting entry to the well-trained and “pasang-awa” alike. Or, when they’re let loose on the streets and are now on duty, the system itself encourages them to discard the rules—perhaps higher-ups coercing new recruits to take procedural shortcuts, to allow for faster apprehension of suspects and the subsequent perp walk before a braying public. What’s a few regulations broken, after all, when, in one fell swoop, the media frenzy is stoked and the PNP also gets to buff its image?

The usual grievance against the police, from the abuse of suspects to incompetent investigations that result in cases being thrown out of court, is anchored on this mentality—that rules are expendable when it comes to fighting brazen criminals.
The irony, of course, should be obvious: Once cops decide to short-circuit procedures and break the law, no matter that it is done in the supposed interest of combating crime, they become no better than the lowlifes they are pursuing. That cavalier attitude to doing things right is the proverbial slippery slope toward cops becoming the caricatures that they are now—power-tripping rogues with guns, but also basically boneheads fumbling their way from one messed-up case to another.

Is that a fair image? A police manual touted by the PNP boss as having been broken down to its most elementary level to help the force get its act together certainly won’t help reverse the impression. Especially with the additional pronouncement by the PNP chief’s spokesperson, Senior Supt. Wilben Mayor, that the leadership is discussing the idea of conducting exams on the manual as a basis for promoting policemen.

Say again? Qualifying exams only now, and based on fundamental regulations rewritten in much-simplified form, such as how to arrest suspects lawfully, investigate cases thoroughly, handle evidence and preserve crime scenes with utmost care, report police encounters honestly, avoid embellishing the facts when talking to the media, conduct oneself with utmost professionalism and integrity at all times? Aren’t the police sworn to “serve and protect” the public?

If our cops now have to use an idiot’s guide to bone up on the most basic police know-how and thereby render themselves qualified for advancement in the PNP hierarchy, what in Dick Tracy’s name has been the basis for police promotion all this time? The ability to look dapper in uniform?

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TAGS: Editorial, opinion, PNP, Police, Police manual, Revised Police Operational Procedures Manual 2013
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