Tag Archives: community policing

EQUALITY

I came across this UCLA Medical School Commencement Address by Dr Atul Gawande. Reading through it, I was struck by the solutions it offers for India’s current problems of rather frequent instances of violence on doctors in hospitals. The solution comes from the speaker’s philosophical thinking. I was also struck by the mission level commonality between the practice of medicine and practice of policing.

The first principle of the practice of medicine is that saving the life of any patient should be equally important to the treating doctor. Dr Gawande acknowledges that practitioners do not always live up to the principle. It is also the first principle of the practice of law enforcement- that there should be no distinction when acting upon complaints of persons from different social status. However, like in medical practice, but more so in policing, this principle is still only a goal to be achieved.

He mentions hospitals as places where you encounter the whole span of society-everyone, irrespective of position and means, needs medical care. Similar are the police stations- everyone needs good law enforcement work by police and the person’s position and means should be irrelevant for police when dealing with a victim or perpetrator of crime. Dr Gawande observes that US has a high incarceration rate ( currently 7 million people) and many of those incarcerated are blacks or the mentally ill and further, that 30% of the country’s adults carry a criminal arrest record! These figures are an eye opener about the unending circular link between poverty, social disadvantage and crime.

Impacting the nation’s economic growth and widely dispersing the benefits of better growth are not in the hands of the police but one of the significant fallouts of poverty and inequality is higher crime- which is fully a police responsibility. Poverty and inequality are two factors whose outcome is more crime in society. How then can the police cope with the hard problem of crime due to poverty and inequality?

Dr Gawande provides the solution for the medical fraternity- doctors need to be open to recognising the common core of humanity in each individual and develop curiosity for understanding what it feels like to be in the other’s shoes. In short, if doctors develop their capacity to empathise, it will help people dealing with doctors overcome their anger and fear through which they often act violently. I especially liked the way Dr Gawande expresses this ‘Once we lose the desire to understand-to be surprised, to listen and bear witness-we lose our humanity.’

What is in this solution which is beneficial for policing? Treating the especially vulnerable populations with understanding and respect means creating a more level playing field for access to justice. And what can cause this better understanding and respect? To my mind, it would be preventive policing through appropriate community policing schemes. It is therefore very important to nudge police activities in the direction of preventive policing through community policing. And a nudge which works here is the budgetary funding which government can provide for community policing schemes and supervised through performance audits of such schemes.

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From Ideas to Actions

I’m back with the Police department after a very enjoyable deputation stint with CIDCO. I’ve been thinking about what I can do from my current position in the State Police HQ to implement the ideas that I’ve been blogging about.

Interestingly, I found an order of the Ayush dept of Government of India, which mentioned that the government will fund police departments at the district level across the country for better health of policemen through yoga. The funding was substantial too – monthly payment for the yoga teacher and for record keeping and a one time grant for fitting out a location for the yoga classes, in each district that would take part in the scheme. This will be a great idea to implement in two ways-1. Daily yoga classes for police and their families in Police Lines in every district-it would be great for their health and the benefit should be measurable, and 2. Daily morning meditation (strictly secular, no-chants) open to public, at a public place like a municipal garden etc especially in geographical areas which experience frequent public order disturbance-this would again be good for the health of policemen if people become calmer and there are fewer law and order situations for the police to handle. Point no 2 should also be measurable. The critical to-do here is to be able to engage with institutions of repute in yoga and meditation for implementing the program in every district in Maharashtra. I would eagerly wait to see the results on both these counts, in a few years!

Another useful thing to do, is to handhold till it takes root, the budgetary funding of police stations in every district of Maharashtra. The government order needed to make this a reality, already exists. A 2006 Maharashtra government order had enabled the Police Station In-Charge to be made a Drawing and Disbursing Officer(DDO) for incurring office expenses and for payment of the police station telephone bills. Strangely, this order has been implemented-only in little measure though-in only one district in Maharashtra till date. ┬áIt will indeed be an empowering thing for the SHO to have government funds at his/her disposal to run his/her police station on a day to day basis. It may also have a bit of impact on ‘ necessary corruption’!

I think another very creative thing to do would be to encourage SPs in various districts of Maharashtra to ideate on community policing projects for their areas, prepare project proposals and send these proposals to government for approval of budgetary funds. I’m sure there will be enough enthusiasm from the young officers on this. If sustained over four-five years, budgeted community policing/preventive policing projects could bring about better rapport of police station officers with the people, reduce local crime and also earn greater respect for their work.

I think these and such to-do’s can be common targets for police departments across all states in India. And importantly, they are completely within the capabilities of the police departments themselves to do.