To me, these news items are red flags for the relevance of Police as a service, as it exists now, in India. Clearly, the thoughtful police leaders are also seeing serious concerns on the quality of service delivered by the rank and file of their organizations especially vis a vis the public expectation. In Mumbai, the Police Commissioner talked of identifying the black sheep in the department and transferring them to jobs with least public dealings.
Policing is meant to make society feel safe, and at the very least, policemen are expected not to uproot this trust by committing heinous crimes themselves. I’m sure the criminals in uniform will be dealt with very severely in the department. But how does one bring in a working culture in police stations where the policemen feel a responsibility towards making their jurisdictions safer?
This ‘feeling safe’ is a very fey goal. It would mean, at the very least, that the police stations keep an authentic record of all crimes in society and investigate those that have an impact on public safety (and not get bogged down in investigating petty crimes which can be settled or arbitrated through insurance). The actions by police and courts on the reported crimes should then result in an overall feeling of safety due to a genuinely low-crime scenario. ‘Feeling safe’ also happens when police do effective intelligence based preventive work on the disruptive but rare ‘enemy’ activities like terrorism.
So, I ask the question, in our country, on the backdrop of rampant non registration of crimes in police stations and the poor disposal of criminal cases in courts, is it a fair expectation that police in India can make people ‘feel safe’? Or, on a little hopeful note, at least as far as the police is concerned, what can make policemen in police stations more accountable to the people they are supposed to keep safe?
If I consider the police in Mumbai, it is a large organisation of approx 55000 people with the bulk of its personnel in the constabulary. The organisational pyramid is very wide bottomed. How does one transform this organisation to being perceptibly responsive to public complaints, and thereby significantly improve the status of ‘feeling safe’? And also achieve this in such a way that it is not dependent on who the DCP or CP is, at any point of time. To my mind, the police leadership at the top management level needs to focus on making the police stations as public accountable units.
One way to attempt a solution to this vexing problem is to obtain an independent measure of crime levels per police station by conducting Crime Victimization Surveys. This can show up the level of ‘burking’ of crime in police stations i.e non recording of FIRs in reported crimes. A spotlight on this difference can be a self correcting measure for the police stations. And it can be expected that once this is corrected, the right number and value of resources will be allocated to police by governments. Currently, with the ridiculous statistics of falling crime numbers year on year, police is only in the maintenance mode as far as funds are concerned. It is a hopeless situation for enhancing funds for policing.
Such Surveys will also focus the spotlight on the increasing or decreasing public perception of ‘feeling safe’, which again can be expected to work as a self correcting measure for the police station staff to make the necessary changes in their response and behaviour towards the people who seek police help.
I’ve written about these Surveys earlier on this blog. But they are yet an untested idea in India. I think it’s time for some serious experimentation in changing the way we do policing in India. Something may work.