x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Not even the police are above the law

Dubai authorities have taken steps to curb police abuse, bringing officers to account in a transparent legal process

The beating of three men accused of illegally selling alcohol in Dubai last year was unremarkable save for the identity of the assailants: the UAE police. As The National has reported, the suspects in the case accused the police of torturing them while in custody. One suffered a ruptured eardrum.

The government's response was decisive and just. The Dubai Court of Misdemeanours found the officers - two Emiratis and a Pakistani - guilty, sentencing each man to a month in prison.

The penalty sent a powerful message to the public: an orderly society depends on the guarantee of personal safety; when police are seen as above the law, this basic social contract is compromised.

Allegations of corruption and the excessive use of force are challenges that many of the world's law enforcement agencies have suffered, some more than others. The Rodney King assault by Los Angeles police in 1991 is among the most indelible. More recently, police departments from Zambia to Ukraine have been accused of brutalising prisoners in their countries. There are even allegations in Egypt that it is police who have stoked social unrest and fed ongoing chaos.

The UAE's challenges are on a very different scale. However, Humaid al Muhairi, an Emirati expert on the prevention of corruption, says that when police abuse their positions people are less willing to report crimes. "Consequently, crime increases in the society and eventually security as a whole is compromised," he said.

Government officials in Dubai understand these risks. Maj Gen Khamis al Mazeina, the emirate's deputy police chief, says a system of rewards for good behaviour, coupled with better monitoring of officers, have helped curb abuses of power. "When one is given all sorts of resources - medical, social and financial benefits - one does not want to do anything to ruin the reputation of the apparatus."

Maj Gen al Mazeina's plan to maintain a well paid, professional police force is prudent. Equally important is the continued prosecution of those who step over the line. While outliers are the exception, there is a continued need for vigilance. Public safety and social cohesion depend on it.