“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” according to 19th-century social reformer Frederick Douglass.
His words could come to mind as one seeks to find lasting solutions to the persistent problem of scalawags in the Philippine National Police with its current image probably at an all-time low, especially with the abrupt departure of Oscar Albayalde from its top post amid his alleged links to “ninja cops” whose notoriety keeps cropping up.
Should it take a generation of new police recruits to change the image of the PNP which is now widely perceived to be broken beyond repair?
While it might still be true that rogue cops constitute a small minority of the entire PNP force which is currently around 180,000-strong, the grim reality is that police scalawags have the capacity to shape the perceptions of the general public or even subvert our criminal justice system.
The impact of bad eggs on the public’s perception of the police certainly depict, although unfairly, the entire basket to be rotten – as what many people are inclined to believe amid the continued failure of the PNP to cleanse its ranks.
Do Filipinos deserve a police force with a sullied image? Is our timidity as a people to blame for the impunity of rampaging rogue cops?
“Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on,” the late US statesman Robert Kennedy once said.
Is it the fault of common folks that many communities all over the country have rotten cops? Is it lack of public insistence that there are policemen who betray the trust bestowed on them and make a mockery of their sworn duty to serve and protect when they become criminals themselves?
The exemplary men and women of the PNP who truly serve and protect, who always strive to enforce the law with utmost professionalism, who put their lives on the line, certainly do not deserve a demoralizing image.
To rid the PNP of its bad image, the aberration in the system must be effectively dealt with. Screening and selection of police recruits, education and training, values formation, periodic evaluation to determine continued physical, mental, and moral fitness ought to be pursued and strengthened.
It is essential that the recruitment process ensures shady characters are kept out. Pre-employment screening ought to spot red flags. And these red flags must not be ignored.
It might be possible to cleanse the ranks of the PNP without having to wait for a whole generation of new police recruits. But people must be inspired to throw their full support. A supportive public that sheds off it timidity is crucial. With sustained vigilance by an inspired citizenry, minor infractions committed by cops would be reported and properly dealt with.
It is important that minor infractions are dealt with to prevent escalation into major crimes, in accordance with the “broken windows theory” in criminology – whereby vandals who see an abandoned building with a few broken windows break more until all windows are destroyed and the whole building is ruined and the entire neighborhood is in shambles.
And leadership is critical. If the quality of leadership in the PNP is exemplary in the quest for excellence, it should inspire full support of all members. Thus, it is crucial that President Duterte makes the right choice when he selects the next top cop.
POST-SCRIPT: Happy birthday to a good friend, Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso! May you be blessed with all the best and continue to be a blessing and inspiration to Manileños in particular, and to all Filipinos in general.