Initiating the reforms process in policing in India has been a difficult issue to tackle. The efforts from retired police officers like Mr Prakash Singh and organizations like Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative resulted in directions from the Supreme Court for implementing police reforms. However, there has been no eagerness gushing forth on the implementation.
The recent few years have witnessed a growing distrust and lack of public confidence in police actions and inactions. However, it would clearly be wrong to view this public mood as being solely directed at the police. Public trust in police is actually a sensitive indicator for the levels of trust in government. Police functions within the confines of government and is expected to function strictly as laid down in the law, irrespective of the political parties in power. But have enough safeguards been built into the administrative and criminal law to ensure for the required level of functionality for ‘rule of law’? The fulcrum of political control on police is the administrative control which is exercised by the political setup on transfers and promotions. This control then, in practice, overrides the legal requirements of functioning strictly as per the laid down law.
So it appears that what is required is to either reduce the political control on police administration and/or enhance the judicial control on law enforcement. This could logically be done in two ways – 1. By creating autonomous Boards for transfers in police, public complaints against police and annual policies for police, to distance political control on the administration of the police, as directed in the SC order on the police reforms PIL, or 2. By increasing multifold the level of supervision of courts, which are the guardians of the law, on police work, through speedy justice delivery.
The 2nd option is unviable in the short term, though extremely critical in the long term, as it would involve substantially strengthening the judiciary. The additional burden of court monitored cases is already further adding to the heavily burdened judicial system in India. The 1st option is relatively easy to implement due to minimal additional costs but is difficult to put in place without people demanding more accountability from politicians on police performance.
So how do you involve the people into demanding from the government that they are entitled to better police services? One possible way is through the method of iterative Crime Victimization Surveys at the level of police stations. The periodic measurement of actual victimization due to crime and also mapping safety perceptions of the people, in every police station jurisdiction, has the potential to make the police stations more focused on thinking of and implementing measures to reduce these numbers in subsequent surveys, which can lead to measurably better state of safety over a period of time. These surveys will also focus attention on the gaps in crime registration by police vis a vis the real crime taking place in each police station jurisdiction. The periodic surveys would thus have the potential to encourage police to record all reported crimes and investigate them to reduce the gap in subsequent surveys, rather than avoid registering crimes as is the trend now.
The survey measurements will clearly focus public attention on what needs to be done to improve standards of policing. And the resultant democratic demands from the people should increase the inclination of the governing political setup to willingly put in place mechanisms for better accountability, like improving the capabilities of police through providing better resources and simultaneously incentivizing prevention of crime and disincentivizing police performance that is not alleviating peoples’ concerns on crime and safety.