It is the Law that sustains our society. Upholding the Law with impartiality, dignity and decorum is a challenge. This year the Police Department can take pride in celebrating 150 years of service to our motherland. It has been an enduring journey, with onerous demands that were met with courage and efficiency. There were grey moments of uncertainty, yet the progressive march continues.
For centuries, we have been a nation of peace-loving citizens living in communal harmony. During the Portuguese occupation of Ceylon, they did not perceive the need for a uniformed Police service. Subsequently, the Dutch gained total control of the Maritime Provinces and the northern peninsula by 1658. The Colombo Municipality initiated a system of hiring paid guards to patrol Colombo city at night. Three stations were set up in Fort, Pettah and at Kaymans Gate. Once the British began to administer Ceylon the Office of the Fiscal was given authority to supervise Police duties. As the city grew rapidly the Fiscal was unable to administer the Police functions entrusted to him.
Governor Fredric North began to redefine the functions of the Police in 1805. A Police Vidane (officer) was appointed in rural villages for the prevention of crime. Governor North directed that Colombo city be divided into 15 divisions. Police Constables were recruited and trained. The Governor was keen to restructure the Police and made a request to the Governor of Bombay to recommend a diligent officer. The name of WR Campbell, who was in charge of the Rathnagiri Rangers, was proposed and accepted. Campbell arrived in our island and assumed duties as the first Chief Superintendent of Police on September 3, 1866. Therefore this date is recorded as the day that the uniformed Police Force was established.
In 1867 the first Police Head Quarters was set up at Maradana. Lokubanda Dunuwila became the first Sri Lankan to be appointed to the rank of Superintendent of Police, deployed to head the Kandy range. In Colombo the ranks were restructured to recognize Police Inspectors, Sergeants and Constables. For the first time the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) was created. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was initiated in 1870. Empowering the officers to effectively mitigate violent threats .22 calibre rifles were introduced in 1916. The Head Quarters was shifted to Fort in 1932 where it operates to this day.
In 1947 Richard Aluvihare became the first Sri Lankan to be appointed as Inspector General of Police in a service dominated by the British. He is credited with transforming the force and introducing the Police Kennels division. Sir Richard recruited female cadre into active regular service. As vehicles began to converge on the once quiet streets the Traffic Range was set up and today has blossomed into an active unit with our very own highway patrol. In 1952 for the first time VHF Radio was introduced to connect all stations. It was decided during this year that officers who died whilst on duty would be accorded a funeral with full Police honours in recognition of their gallant sacrifice.
The menace of illegal narcotics began to filter into our region. The Narcotic Prevention Bureau was set up in 1973. However, illegal drugs continue to somehow invade and enslave many youth.
During the darker chapters of our history we were plagued with many forms of insurgency. In order to counter this, the department established the Special Task Force in 1983. These officers received training in jungle warfare and today play a pivotal role in the area of VIP security. Recognizing the need for a healthy work-life balance the Police Sports division was set up in 1990. The Police rugby team, which fielded many National players, continues to dominate the local scene as a formidable team.
To supplement the security measures in Colombo city in 2007, the CCTV unit was formed and they continue to monitor the daily happenings on screen as we go about our busy routines. To respond to any emergency, the 119 response unit was brought into service in 2004 and continues to serve the public.
Living in complex times there were instances of public complaints against the behaviour of a few officers, which warranted the Police Human Rights Section being set up in 2002. They continue to educate the cadre about the importance of maintaining the rights of all citizens and suspects. We must remember the officers who laid down their lives in the line of duty. The Police must continue to maintain its bonds with the public as we all aspire to become a prosperous and safe nation.
Pics by Chamila Karunarathne