Police reforms: How to change from within

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Police reforms: How to change from within

For the police system to improve, the country does not require any massive structural reforms or a huge legislative effort. Small yet concerted efforts will suffice

Last fortnight, I had written a piece on the status of undertrials in India for The Pioneer. In the column, I had proposed certain changes to the police system that could help improve the status of undertrials in the country. Continuing along the same vein, over this column and the next, I wanted to focus on police reforms in the country.

Over the past few decades, several efforts have been made to initiate this process of reforms, including the decision of the Supreme Court on the PIL filed by Prakash Singh and the innumerable committees that have been formed with a focus on police reforms. Part II of this series tackles the police reforms that have been proposed and the status of these reforms currently. This week, however, I wanted to focus on the steps that may be taken which do not require any massive structural reforms of the policing system in India or any massive legislative effort but instead demand that the police leadership takes implementable steps to help improve the status of our increasingly maligned police.

Change from within the system: Leo Tolstoy once said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing himself”. A similar complaint can be made of the police leadership in our country. There is little debate about the fact that there needs to be structural reforms that have been touted and emphasised repeatedly by different committees across multiple Governments. However, an examination of the Indian Police Act of 1861, the archaic law that governs the police in our country, shows a lack of any form of accountability for the police. In such circumstances, it is crucial that the police leadership demand that they be held accountable, though the law may at present not demand such accountability.

Accountability need not be built in through only legislative change but can be done at the ground level. One possible way to build in this accountability would be the installation of CCTV cameras in each police station. Such a move would help build in accountability in obvious ways. For one, it would incentivise the police to exercise scientific methods and training to actually help solve crimes as opposed to extorting confessions from individuals. As I have mentioned in my previous article on undertrials, there is a lack of reliance and training on scientific methods of investigations such as DNA analysis etc. The result, therefore, is that crime scenes are often contaminated and poorly handled. Therefore, the police leadership should both encourage the installation of CCTV cameras to prevent extortion and take active interest in educating the officers on the use of scientific methods of investigation.

Another tangible benefit of installation of CCTV cameras would be the registration of FIRs by the police. There is rampant under-reporting of crime since the police very rarely actually registers FIRs for crimes that have occurred. Let’s take the example of theft; statistics suggest that only close to eight per cent of FIRs are registered. The remaining 92 per cent are not reflected any form of official record.

Since the law gives the police discretion in determining whether an FIR should be registered, in order to keep crime rates low and not expend resources, time and effort in resolving crimes, the police have an incentive not to register FIRs. This obvious lacuna does not necessarily require any legislative action and an emphasis on creating an internal accountability mechanism by the current police leadership could help tackle this appalling statistic.

Militarisation of the police and treading wayward paths: The police service’s Statement of Common purpose provides a wonderful summary of what the purpose of the police is: The purpose of the police service is to uphold the law fairly and firmly; to prevent crime; to pursue and bring to justice those who break the law; to keep the Queen’s peace; to protect, help and reassure the community; and to be seen to do this with integrity, common sense and sound judgement.

The primary role of any modern police is preventive in nature and ideally non-confrontational. However, in India, we find that the militarisation of the police has seen a meteoric rise over the past few decades. Just to throw a statistic, the CRPF, considered to be India’s largest paramilitary force, in 1961, only consisted of 14 battalions but now the same force has over 200 battalions. The primary reason for such militarisation is that central paramilitary forces are increasingly being utilised for carrying out duties relating to maintaining law and order. This is despite the fact the Constitution of our country provides that the police and public order are State subjects. But instead of focusing on prevention of crime and using good police work to ensure that minor crimes don’t escalate into major travesties, we find that the police have become increasingly reactive. A clear example of this is the manner in which crimes against women are carried out. It is a tragic fact that crimes against women are more common than we care to admit or discuss. However, we only discuss such crimes when a heinous act like Nirbhaya happens. In reality though, these crimes do not occur in isolation.

There is typically a history of some form of deviant behaviour that precedes most crimes. Our police force, though is ineffective in picking up on such behaviour because resources are being expended to militarisation of the police as opposed to say gender sensitivity training, which can help curb victim blaming and, therefore, help prevent more violent crimes in the future.

Another step that could be considered is the encouragement of beat cops. These are policemen who are familiar with a particular area and are typically aware of any untoward incidents against that occur on their ‘beat’. This sort of ear-to-the-ground approach can help prevent more violent and heinous crime in the future and does not require any legislative or executive action or any massive reforms.

A demotivated police force: Another problem that plagues the policing system is the absence of a motivated police force. In this case, I have some sympathy for the police force. The police now are typically engaged in all forms of activities, whether it is to prevent people from defecating in public (as the Jharkhand Government has done) or to ‘nudge’ people to achieve the goals of demonetisation. Furthermore, the police are extremely over worked, often working seven days a week. This coupled with a complete lack of focus on development of individuals or any form of human resource management results in a demotivated.

Just to take an example, a constable rarely sees any opportunity for upward mobility in the police. This is ironic because the caliber of individuals joining the police force is not typically poor. A number of these individuals are graduates who have the ability to positively contribute to the police force. What such individuals do lack, however, is a clear track and the necessary motivation to do so. This lack of motivation is often the most common factor behind police men engaging in corrupt activities. It may be argued that it is the responsibility of the legislature to introduce reforms but for individuals, who occupy important leadership positions in the police, to completely abdicate this responsibility is not a flattering endorsement of their leadership qualities.

I recognise that the issues that have been discussed above are not issues that are black and white and there are significant areas where the hands of the police are tied. However, in my experience, a concerted effort towards a worthy cause has the ability to bring about change and this itself should be inspiration enough to make an attempt.

(The writer, Jharkhand PCC president, is a former MP and IPS officer. Views expressed are personal)

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