Among the many public institutions of India, I see the police organization as the most troubled, by the rapid changes in Indian society. It is also one of the oldest Indian institutions, sharing space with the military organizations in terms of being rigidly hierarchical. It is manned by an extremely well educated set of managers in the IPS at the top of the pyramid and barely out of school constabulary at the bottom of the very wide based pyramid with graduate level educated personnel in the middle ranks.
The oft repeated question I hear is why is the elite IPS not able to make an impact on the state of policing in India. Why can’t this elite leadership modernise our police and change traditional police practices of torture of suspects and nonchalance in the investigation of complaints of ordinary people as against the extra diligence in recording FIRs and investigating even buffalo thefts of the powerful, and be sensitive to the concerns like safety of women in public spaces, despite society clearly showing its impatience and anger and sometimes disgust on the police actions on many issues. The expectations from police are of competence as well as service to the general society. Are the well educated elite in the IPS incapable of leading the police organization towards the change required? Why is this transformation so difficult?
Of course, the lack of freedom to spend money on the transformations required and the constraints on the DGP on the posting of personnel are two of the key factors. I have written on both these problems on this blog.
Recently I was visiting my training academy, the SVPNPA, Hyderabad, on a speaking assignment and for a batch reunion and I got an opportunity to interact with the trainee officers. They had these same concerns after seeing first hand in their district training, the way the department functions. One of the IPS faculty at the academy wondered if the training at NPA was lacking in some crucial ingredients as far as the basic training was concerned, to equip the trainees to face ground realities and yet make them feel the positivity that things need and can be changed. He was worried about the wide and further widening gap between the practice of policing as taught at NPA and as actually practised, which could disillusion the new entrants into feeling that police as a department, is not likely to do things differently anytime soon and therefore think it worthwhile to move on to other job opportunities.
So where does the problem lie? Traditionally police in India was a closed door organization controlling deviance within its personnel through rigorous supervision of police stations by the senior ranks, and ensuring outputs on crime management through personal supervision of crime detection by superior officers. So the focus was on the senior leadership’s personal presence to provide the leadership to fighting crime and keeping the police station working as per norms. This model is becoming ineffective due to the huge volume of work. Irrespective of police statistics, crime has burgeoned. The capacity of police stations to handle effectively the complainants and their complaints, has diminished, due to the volume of other work.
Clearly, there is need to delegate a lot of jobs currently performed by senior and mid level officers, downwards. There is need to make full use of the large constabulary and make them responsible and effective first responders in crime and complaints’ handling at the local level. There is need to carry out a training needs assessment for different ranks of personnel and make training the number one priority in the department. The results will come in a few years, but the current sense of ennui in the department can be replaced by a freshness of approach and a sense of future direction.
Another unusual area to explore for introducing change is opening the police department to research and using the results of such research to drive the change. Say, a community policing project is introduced in a city, a study of the before-after effects of the project through an academic institution, can be useful to determine if the project can be scaled up or needs to be modified or dropped altogether. Such examination can help the police and society gain continued benefits from the spending on projects. There are also many areas for research on subjects common between police and other departments like ‘Women and Child’, ‘Surface Transport’, ‘RBI’, ‘Food and Drugs’, etc, which can lead to better integrated policies for better outcomes for the society as a whole. It will also open the police department to new ideas and at the same time make their working adaptable to change requirements.
The IPS really needs to focus on methods for introducing and sustaining change within the existing constraints, if the image of police has to have a chance for a changed perception in the public mind.