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Commentary: First steps in policing the police
( 2003-08-23 10:19) (China Daily)

The current campaign to clear up extended custody seems to be going on in earnest.

Earlier this week, a county court in Central China's Henan Province sentenced a local police officer to six months' public surveillance after he prolonged the custody of a suspect by four days.

This is the first time a perpetrator of extended custody will actually serve a sentence, according to Supreme People's Court sources.

Such a first is apparently long overdue, but it at least sends a fresh signal to law enforcement officers that the penalty for unwarranted custody could be sterner than internal disciplines and public criticism.

Despite the strict limit provided by criminal procedures on the term of custody and the use of mandatory forces, abuses of power still occur at times during criminal investigations.

In some cases, police officers put suspects under protracted custody and are obsessive to find the truth, regardless of following required procedures.

In other cases, corrupt policemen use custody and even physical abuse as their means of tyranny.

It is rising public indignation that has led to the Ministry of Public Security's latest campaign to sort out extended custody and other irregularities such as the unlawful use of weapons, alcoholism and gambling among police officers.

The move nationwide has so far made scores of policemen lose their rice bowls for misconduct.

The sentencing of the Henan police officer is a remarkable step forward in the fight against police abuse.

But this is still far from the end of the crusade.

The officer's perpetration was relatively light, and his sentence of public surveillance was the lightest among the country's principal punishments for crime.

There are numbers of other cases where the suspects were held in custody year after year, with allegations of torture and other offences, although the wrongdoers are still at large.

To make every policeman observe proper procedures and respect individual rights require long-term, uphill battles.

But one thing the victims of police can see is that the lid on the dark side of law enforcement is being lifted.

The resolve of administrative and judicial bodies has been reflected through the latest clean-up measures, and offers reason to believe that the fight on police abuse will not tail off.

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