How Much Autonomy is Good for Policing

AIbEiAIAAABDCNHI9JDL38HrYSILdmNhcmRfcGhvdG8qKGRmZjM3Y2IyNGFiNzVkYTE5Y2QxOWM5YjVjZDg5YzZhODkzY2FhYmYwAeb12e_1DLWxFoaTlOyiwl7aGBdwIn the past few months, there has been intermittent news on transfers, promotions and postings in the police department. There was news about anguish in the police department at the controls exercised by the bureaucracy and political hierarchy on these issues. There was also the demand for autonomy to the CBI for the purpose of fairness in their investigations. The issue of autonomy to police has got publicly identified as being core to initiating police reforms. Therefore, the issue is much debated publicly as well.

If we analyze the concerns at the root of the need for police reforms, we should start with the end results sought from reforms, i.e good policing through effective crime prevention, giving customer focus to attending to public complaints received by police stations and professionalism in the trade of policing including fair and competent  investigations.

What then is inhibiting the police from delivering on these end results sought by the people? Two factors: lack of autonomy in financial spending and lack of autonomy in positioning its personnel.

The first issue of financial autonomy is crucial for enabling good performance by the police. It enables proper and timely allocation of funds for the equipment, infrastructure and project needs of policing. I have an earlier post related to the importance of this subject (

The second issue of positioning police personnel is easy to identify with. I say ‘easy’, because it appears a no-brainer that if the people in field positions(a police terminology for positions dealing with public, like police stations, districts, Commissionerates) are chosen carefully, the required orientation to be people friendly will come in automatically. Let us look at this issue in greater detail. Policing, in India, is a State-list subject and the state police departments are centralized under the state police HQ (unlike the decentralized police establishments in some countries like the USA). So for appropriate positioning of personnel to happen in a department having around 2 lac people, there must be enough delegation of transfer powers down the line to enable appropriate evaluation of suitability based on observation of performance. Due to the centralized structure of state police, it is also easy to understand that the state should be concerned only with the careful considerations required in the appointment of the state police chief, and the chief should have adequate powers to move personnel below him, under proper safeguards of checks and balances, within the department. The safeguards are, of course, of critical importance, and should include rules regarding tenure for every rank, rotation of jobs, expertise and specialization and personnel performance evaluations. The Police Establishment Boards (PEB) for transfers into all ranks, as suggested by the Supreme Court ruling in the Police Reforms PIL moved by Shri Prakash Singh and others (, need to be the feeder body for these actions to be taken by the state police chief. Currently, this power of positioning police personnel recommended by the PEB is scattered across the spectrum of bureaucracy and political dispensation. The ability of the state police chief to deliver on the above mentioned end requirements for good policing, is therefore diluted considerably.

A good precedent to follow on this issue of autonomy in transfers and postings, is that of the central police organizations, of which CBI is one such organization. The freedom to post personnel according to certain criteria, gives the chiefs of the central police organization, including the CBI, enough flexibility to run the organization and deliver on performance. If performance still slips, then it should lie squarely on the shoulders of the chief. The people of India are directly concerned with the performance of state police organizations, just as they are concerned with the performance of  the CBI, and therefore the concerns of the state police should be of critical importance in designing police reforms.

This ‘easy’ approach for police reforms will certainly give autonomy to the police department to position the right officer for the right job. But it could still have less than optimal results as far as the issue of public satisfaction on the state of policing goes. The reason being, there are multiple uncertainties in this framework design. The variables on political selection of the most appropriate person to be the state police chief, the only indirect accountability of the police hierarchy to the people and accountability only to the political interests, can remain. This concern was sought to be mitigated in the PIL order cited above, by giving the state police chief a fixed tenure.

However, in this solution of autonomy to the police in posting of personnel, there is excessive dependence on one individual, and other stake holders in public safety do not have a say on standards of service delivery by the police. The State police chief (like a CEO of a company) is certainly the fulcrum for making the required outcomes in police reforms, a reality for the people of the state. But for the police reforms to take root and last long, the system should be such that he works with inbuilt and non-personal decision making tools, which are decentralized enough to give measurable results on the performance of his officers. Also important is that such  measurements on peoples’ expectations from police and performance of the police stations on those expectations are publicly known. Since the people are the ‘client’ for police, their involvement in the way they are given service by the police, needs to improve. This can happen with the earlier discussed process of institutionalizing the public surveys on crime victimization and safety ( and


2 thoughts on “How Much Autonomy is Good for Policing

  1. Absolutely! the police should be independent and shouldn’t have to kowtow to the politicians.. that is so obvious, but obviously, it isnt in the best interests of those in power.. so we sit and watch and fret and wring our hands in helplessness


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s