Crime Victimization Surveys for Police Reforms

ImageInitiating 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.


6 thoughts on “Crime Victimization Surveys for Police Reforms

  1. These are well thought out insights. Here are a few first comments.

    We need to go behind the scenes and try to understand why politicians (and their bureaucratic cohorts) behave in the way that they do, namely, interfere with impunity in police transfers and postings and thereby, adversely affect the performance of the police. By the way, this happens not only with the police department, but with all departments in the government.

    Recently, I read something that probably offers an explanation, or at least a theoretical framework in which such behaviour can be analysed.

    You must have read the famous (or by now, notorious) reflection by Lant Pritchett on India being a flailing State. He says that our head works well, but our limbs are not connected to the head, so we flail around. Recently, I saw an elaboration on why he thinks we might be flailing, in a framework where he un-bundles the universe of accountability. Lant’s points go as follows:

    There are two kinds of accountability, namely, ‘thick’ accountability and ‘thin’ accountability. In the former, there is a high level of discretion in the performance of responsibilities and in the latter, discretion is limited to the following of standard protocols. Actions also fall into two categories depending upon the number of people involved. Taking these two points into consideration, government actions and services can be classified into four categories as follows:

    (a) ‘Thick’ accountability involving few people; Example, law making,
    (b) ‘Thick’ accountability involving large numbers of people: Example. Policing
    (c) ‘Thin’ accountability involving few people: Example, marking attendance in office
    (d) ‘Thin’ accountability involving large numbers of people: Example. undertaking vaccinations, or delivering letters.

    Lant feels that India does well in ‘a’ and ‘d’, but we are a flailing State because we do not do ‘b’ very well. So we have pretty good laws on policing, but our police does not function well at all. Similarly, we have good laws and policies on education, but our teachers don’t teach well. He says that because we Indians do not hold our service delivery agents accountable in the performance of tasks classified as ‘b’, two things tend to happen.

    First, people routinise the performance of tasks that require the exercise of discretion to attain quality, Thus teachers routinely teach, but do not go to the pains of teaching well, which is a matter of discretion. In other words, matters classified as ‘b’ – ‘thick’ accountability involving large numbers of people, tend to get treated as ‘d’ – ‘thin’ accountability involving large numbers of people.

    Second, politicians do not spend time on improving the quality of performance of ‘b’ discretionary tasks , but instead, spend time in rent seeking, by interfering in recruitment, transfers and postings. Thus, a home minister does not care about improving police performance, but makes money transferring policemen. In other words, the politician neglects his responsibilities to make good law and policy under ‘a’ and instead, begins to meddle in matters classified as ‘b’.

    Seen through this theoretical lens, the idea should be to curb politicians from meddling in police personnel management, to the detriment of policing. However, one must remember that politicians are not alone in this process. Over the years, higher level bureaucrats, including senior police officials have buckled and do not stand up to the pressure from politicians to toe the line on transfers. Many of them are also rent seekers. In such circumstances, would the creation of a commission that would ring fence transfers from political interference really work, given our current culture of influence peddling at all levels? One needs to think through this a bit more, because the current incentive structure being what it is, creation of a Commission may only drive political interference from an overt to a covert operation.

    I like your idea of creating a Crime Victimisation Survey on a police station wise basis, as a starting point for creating a system of public perception of policing. If done well, this could initiate the bottom up pressure that is desperately required to provide an impetus to police reforms.

    Could you please elaborate on what you mean by a Crime Victimisation Survey? It would be good if you could describe what it entails, in further blogs. Maybe one could initiate this in some police stations as well.

    Once again, Pradnya, this is a thought provoking and informative blog!



    1. Raghu, thanks for your detailed response. I will put together more details including reading resources on the Crime Victimization Surveys idea. As you have correctly pointed out, such survey could create an informed public demand for better police services to the community. But the critical thing is that it should not be a one time exercise. It should be done with a periodicity such that it creates a feedback loop for noticing incremental improvements in the functioning of police stations.

      The analysis you’ve given based on Lant Pritchett’s views on the accountability states in Indian institutions gives a good theoretical framework to this problem. I see the current behavior of rent seeking seen in many institutions in India today, as having its roots in lack of processes that direct the accountability of these institutions towards the set of people they serve. The directions of the accountability are misaligned and therefore the problem. The various Boards proposed in the Police Reforms PIL, are to my mind, one manner of realigning by a few degrees, these accountability mechanisms. However, the most desired solution would be to align these mechanisms towards the people served. The desired service delivery strategy for the police, which includes new resources and co-ordination with other local agencies, should be based on the local peoples’ safety and security needs. Therefore, more decentralization is needed. Presently needs assessment and resource allocation is more centralized and there is no input of peoples’ feedback on the quality of services offered by the individual police stations, into these processes.


  2. Mam,

    I am Abhishek Yadav, IPS officer of U.P. cadre, presently undergoing District Training in UP (65 RR).

    Just wanted to know, how do you ensure the periodicity. As an SP, tomorrow I will ensure it in all districts I am posted in but that won’t help unless the system is institutionalized. And that is my sole question. All our good work and practices are individual specific. How do I ensure that these do not die out with me. That they become part of the system.

    And I would also like to respond to Mr. Raghu’s point. That boards if independent and autonomous ( as the UP recruitment Board has become in recent times, with no political interference allowed by statute itself) can really change things.

    Also, that politicians alongwith bureacracy do rent seeking does not really require any theoretical lens. It is plainly visible and no models of accountability are necessary to understand that.


    1. Abhishek, you have pointed out a really critical point-that all initiatives remain individual initiatives, die down after the individual officer has been transferred and therefore are only transient changes to the system. The transient nature of these good initiatives are well known to those officials who continuously game the system for their personal benefit and they only wait for the transfer of the officer to let the initiative vanish.

      The one way to keep the initiative firmly in the system is to make it part of the department’s annual plan budget. That way the initiative becomes a long term scheme receiving government funding and all it’s attendant audit, reporting and other checks paraphernalia.

      Police departments in India typically lack the foresight to give importance to budget planning as a tool to make policing more in tune with society’s needs and more systematic.

      Best wishes


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