Insights into Editorial: Clamping down on crime
The Nirbhaya case and protests aftermath provide an occasion to examine certain fundamental assumptions about policing in India. It should be noted here that after the incident the Delhi police were blamed for failing to prevent such incidents. It is debatable whether the police alone were blameworthy here. Both the state and community at large have a role in shaping public safety, especially that of women and children.
Evolution of policing:
The institution of police traces its origin to Kautilya’s Arthashastra, where he has described the genesis of the state and need to legitimise its authority through police as we know today.
- In modern world, London set up the Metropolitan Police in 1829 and a similar organisation was set up in New York too. This paved the way for organising the police in many western democracies and for our own police forces set up by the British in the early 1900s.
- The focus of law enforcement was initially on disciplining unruly elements disturbing public peace rather than on hunting for criminals depriving others of their life and property.
Need for police reforms:
- Crime, when initial police organizations came up, was a petty offence not requiring any sophisticated methods of investigation and detection. However, crime now is not only widespread and violent but also sophisticated with the abundant use of technology. A fallout is rising fear in a community, especially among elders, women and children.
- With the phenomenal expansion of the geographic area to be policed and the mind-boggling increase in the number of lives to be guarded, the Indian police, more than in many western democracies, have been stretched and outnumbered. There are only about 140 policemen per 100,000 people, a very poor ratio when compared to other modern democracies.
- Another criticism against the police is of their preoccupation with the problems of the political party in power and those of the rich and famous. This is why the 10,000-odd police stations in the country are shunned by the better-off sections, who prefer organising themselves to ward off threats or buy safety services from other sources.
- The phenomenal rise in private security agencies also accounts for the growing lack of trust in the state police. This is a shameful but real state of affairs in most of India.
Challenges faced by the police in the country:
- Lack of effective means to collect and analyse the intelligence data collected.
- Deteriorating quality of state investigation departments.
Many apex organizations continue to have huge vacancies.
- Outdated arms and equipment.
- Lack of coordination within the police departments.
- Lack of proper training.
- Political interference.
What’s the way out?
Considering learning as a healthy public exercise, India should adopt tried and tested strategies from across the world.
- From New York Police Department: NYPD instituted a COMPSTAT (short for COMPuter STATistics) programme, that analysed crime with the help of computers, identified crime hotspots and took preventive action, such as intensified patrolling. Police commanders in New York were made to report to the commissioner each week explaining how they were tackling crime in their jurisdictions. This mechanism not only brought about greater attention to crime in the field but also enhanced police accountability at the grass-root level. The NYPD has recently gone beyond COMPSTAT by hiring a reputed private agency to survey public opinion on police performance. Focussed questions over mobile phones and the responses obtained look at how to fill visible gaps in policing.
- From London: London has launched a major campaign against street crime that involves frisking and seizure of knives — a visible, street-level operation that has enhanced security perceptions. The use of large manpower has been the hallmark of this operation. Physical checks of youth in the streets has added an element of deterrence. This is analogous to the ‘stop and frisk’ practice of the NYPD, whose focus on the non-white population has often drawn flak, especially from African-Americans.
Capacity within the police should be improved. This may be through focused training to keep pace with the changing nature of crime and prevention techniques, or the creation of IT infrastructure for tracking cases to tackle delays due to mounting pendency. It will also require investment in management techniques, soft skills, new technology, and building of databases to allow for seamless access to information, among other heads.
There are, however, few features which make Indian police unique:
- The availability of a corps of leadership in the form of technically savvy young Indian Police Service officers who have a stake in working closely with the community to carry out experiments in the field to upgrade safety at minimum cost to the government. They can borrow from several studies under the rubric of ‘evidence-based policing’.
- The spread of Internet use at all levels of the police. An offshoot is the use of social media in day-to-day policing. Information on crime incidents and criminals is as a matter of course conveyed to the public in many urban centres with encouraging results.
- Citizens are also encouraged to report crime through email or over social media. This practice gives no option for the police but to act without fail and swiftly.
- The participation of the print and visual media in this dialogue gives further fillip to the exercise of sensitising the police to the community demand for safety through police processes.
The 22 September, 2006 verdict of the Supreme Court in the Prakash Singh vs Union of India case was the landmark in the fight for police reforms in India. In its directions, the court had pulled together recommendations generated since 1979. They make up a scheme, which, if implemented holistically, will cure common problems that perpetuate poor police performance and unaccountable law enforcement.
The police’s perception of public safety and their own role here is changing, but only slowly. Many of us are impatient over the pace at which it is happening. We must realize that the Indian police is a behemoth and will respond faster only if there is constant pressure exerted on it by well-organised community leaders and the media.