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The Armed Police is an elite unit of the national police system that is specifically charged with responding to violent disturbances and threats to public order whenever local police units prove unequal to the challenge. Functioning under the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Armed Police responds to emergencies anywhere in the country. The unit ordinarily cooperates closely with the army and paramilitary forces. It also operates an intelligence wing. Except for perhaps its elite Presidential Security Force, the army does not acknowledge having any specialized counterterrorist squad for protecting dignitaries, thwarting hijackings, and rescuing hostages. These functions are probably handled by units of the Armed Police.

The police, or local constabulary, are the lowest echelon of Bangladesh's security forces. The upper echelons of the police, or "gazetted officers," rank high in the civil service and are relatively well trained and well paid. By contrast, the lower ranks are often poorly trained, poorly equipped, and poorly paid. In the subordinate grades, whose numbers account for about 90 percent of the police, advancement is slow and educational levels low. In addition, the police are overworked. Further, the police are often viewed by the public as an oppressive arm of government characterized by widespread petty corruption and political manipulation. According to scholar Craig Baxter, "the police have much more contact with citizens than the army, and therefore take the brunt of criticism when they are called upon to quell disturbances." Despite their reputation for corruption, inefficiency, and occasional brutality, the police remain the most vital component of domestic security. Total police strength in 1988 was estimated between 40,000 and 50,000 personnel.

The police services have had to be rebuilt by the new Bangladeshi government because during the independence war the police system of East Pakistan broke down and there was, in effect, no police system except that maintained by the combatant armies in the areas they controlled. The senior police posts had been held by officers of the elite Police Service of Pakistan, most of whom were from West Pakistan. Lower ranking officers and the police rank and file were Bengalis. When the war of independence broke out in March 1971, most of the East Pakistani police defected and either joined the Mukti Bahini or simply disappeared.

Under administrative decentralization programs first introduced by Zia and later implemented and expanded by Ershad, police administration is headed by the inspector general of police, the equivalent of an army lieutenant general and popularly and officially referred to as the IG. He is responsible to the Ministry of Home Affairs. At the district level there is a superintendent of police, and at the subdistrict level, an inspector of police. Commissioners of police direct the work in major urban areas and report directly to the inspector general. As part of Ershad's political strategy of moving decision-making power closer to the grass-roots level, police administration in 1988 generally paralleled the administrative reorganization introduced by the Ershad regime (see The Ershad Period , ch. 4).

Police officers are categorized as gazetted and subordinate, roughly analogous to commissioned and noncommissioned officers in the military services. The top four gazetted police grades, in descending order, are those of inspector general, deputy inspector general, superintendent, and assistant superintendent. Below these gazetted ranks are the upper subordinate positions of inspector, subinspector, and assistant subinspector. Below them are the bulk of police in the lower subordinate grades of head constable and constable.

The inspector general supervises staff departments handling criminal investigation, identification, communications, administration, and supply. He is further responsible for supervision over the police "ranges," each of which includes a number of districts and is under a deputy inspector general. Within the ranges, police superintendents control districts and supervise one or more assistant superintendents, a number of inspectors, and other personnel. The station house, at the subdistrict (upazila--see Glossary) level, is supervised by one of the upper subordinate officers, called the station house officer, with about ten head constables and constables at the station. Assisting the regular police are part-time village constables and Village Defence Party volunteers, who report violations to the nearest police station or apprehend offenders on police orders. These village constables are recruited locally and receive a very small salary.

At all levels the senior police officer responds to the chain of command within the police organization, but he is also responsible in many matters to the general direction of designated civil government officials. These multiple lines of command sometimes cause confusion and disagreement, but the principle of ultimate civilian control has remained dominant since the colonial period. At the national level the inspector general reports to the home secretary; at the range level the deputy inspector general answers to the division commissioner; and at the district level the police superintendent is subordinate to the deputy commissioner, who is in charge of tax collection, law and order, and administration of justice. Although the deputy commissioner has no authority to interfere directly in the internal organization and discipline of the police, one of his duties is to inspect the police stations of his district at regular intervals. If the deputy commissioner and the police chief disagree on issues relating to police functioning, the deputy commissioner's judgment prevails, but he is dependent upon police cooperation. In case of serious differences, however, both may refer the disputed matter to higher authorities for reconciliation; the deputy commissioner to his commissioner and the superintendent to his deputy inspector general.

Data as of September 1988

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Bangladesh Table of Contents