With crime rising after the floods, Pakistan’s police will need to strategize

With crime rising after the floods, Pakistan’s police will need to strategize

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A rise in criminal activity during an economic recession is often attributable to an increased incidence of deviant behavior in segments of society most affected by its impact. In simple words, if a crisis robs people of their financial resources, they are more driven to commit a crime to satisfy their basic needs. A wide range of research conducted on the relationship between economic crisis and crime in Pakistan has arrived at similar conclusions— that there is a direct correlation between the prevalence of criminal activity and periods of economic crisis, be they man-made or caused by natural disasters. 

In our case, both the frequency and severity of natural disasters have increased over the years. This is mainly due to climate change, which is beyond our control. However, the impact of natural disasters has also been made much worse due to the inadequacy and complacency of our state’s administrative apparatus. 

At 75, Pakistan is going through one of its toughest periods since the Partition of 1947. We have seen severe political instability ever since the last regime was shown the door, and this has made it much more difficult to manage a festering economic crisis, made worse by a natural disaster of “biblical proportions.” 

In Pakistan, unprecedented floods this year have rendered hundreds of thousands homeless and deprived them of both their belongings and sources of income. As mentioned earlier, criminal behavior rises in response to such economic shocks. It is no wonder that law-and-order challenges of different hues and sizes are now being reported from various parts of the country. 

Catastrophe breeds crime. Therefore, while on the one hand, you have many noble souls volunteering to assist in the rescue, relief, and rehabilitation efforts, on the other, you have mafias moving in to capitalize on emergent opportunities. Those who have been deprived of their life’s savings will now be more willing to break the law to survive. Some elements will be looking to exploit on this period — when there is so much political and social upheaval — to settle old scores. Others will focus on hoarding and adulteration of essential goods to make overnight profits. Even those who enjoy the perks of powerful offices will seek to profit from suffering, and exploit it wherever and whenever possible. 

The center of the crisis is where the first ripples are usually felt. As expected, a surge in crime has been reported in Sindh, Balochistan and South Punjab after the recent floods there. While law enforcers are busy saving lives, criminals find themselves free to take advantage of their victims. Policing, as it is clear, becomes a lot more challenging during calamities. 

Catastrophe breeds crime. Therefore, while on the one hand you have many noble souls volunteering to assist in the rescue, relief, and rehabilitation efforts, on the other, you have mafias moving in to capitalize on emergent opportunities. 

Syed Kaleem Imam

Criminal activity then spreads outward. The floods have emptied pockets and destroyed the purchasing power of the people displaced from flood-stricken areas in Pakistan, resulting in a steep rise in crime, particularly street felony. The recent surge seen in urban centers of Sindh and Punjab supports this theory. Low literacy levels, displacement due to disaster and an inability to provide children food leave no option for many but to take the wrong path. Across cities, mobile and cash snatching are on the rise. The most prevalent category of offence is house robbery. This is but the first wave, with more to come. 

The police have a major role to play in emergencies— be they natural or caused by men. Hence, they must now devise a comprehensive strategy to counter the challenges they face during this crisis, along with a proper budgetary plan to find the resources to deliver on that strategy. There is a need to identify vulnerable areas, plan a mechanism for migrating displaced families, mobilize the riverine police to commute passengers, provide air support, earmark shelters, and plan the shifting of affected individuals’ belongings and livestock. 

It is also time that police be given units with trained personnel to perform duties other than their core tasks. Emergency response must now be made part of basic training so that responders are qualified and have the understanding to respond professionally in future calamities. They must know how to protect the victims, their lives and their properties, besides safeguarding their movements. 

The police must also build an intelligence network with partners from the local community to engage and counter likely deviants and prevent them from committing crimes. They also need to go after criminals taking refuge in forsaken places — such as the katcha areas — to clamp down on their nefarious doings. 

The police should also consciously try not to spare those who are patronized by local elites in affected areas. In fact, the police must prepare themselves to deal with these hardened criminals with an iron fist, as they readjust during these periods to greedily rob locals of what little they have left. 

A vigilant approach must also be taken to any land disputes that may arise in disaster-struck areas.  Local influencers who nourish criminals should be kept under surveillance, and action should be taken preemptively. 

It is unfortunate that the police’s high command is handicapped by the budget, insecurity of tenure and a lack of operational autonomy, which leads to disruptions in its planning capabilities. At every provincial police office, the research and development department should be elevated with permanent staff, and this should not be headed by a police officer but by a certified civilian officer with experience and qualifications. 

Leaders are tested on their ability to recognize problems before they become emergencies. The nation’s stakeholders need to realize this. 

- The writer holds a doctorate in politics and international relations and has served as a federal secretary and inspector-general of police. He tweets @KaleemImam. email: [email protected]; fb@syedkaleemimam 

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