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Policing The Police:COMMUNITY SHARING CRUCIAL, By Dr. S.Saraswathi, 8 January, 2013 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 8 January 2013

Policing The Police


By Dr. S.Saraswathi


The demand for the ouster of the Police Commissioner of Delhi by protestors and some political parties after the gang-rape incident in the heart of the nation’s capital has done a great service in drawing the country’s attention to the urgency for reforming the police system and organization in India. In this incident, there is not only failure in preventing the crime, but a number of lapses in the enforcement of  prescribed  rules governing  private vehicles, public transport, drivers, etc., due to total systemic failure that cannot be attributed to any  particular official.


Police is an instrument of the State, and its power is the most important feature distinguishing the State from other associations in a society. However, the modern State is not a police State, but a welfare one where institutions and instruments are created and used for the good of the people. The police is one such institution with enormous powers to help both the Government and the people to carry on a peaceful and orderly life.


Therefore, a basic principle governing the police organization is that it should play its role as envisaged in the system, discharge its functions and responsibilities without fear or favour, and adhere to the mandate given to it by law. While it should not apply its coercive power arbitrarily, it should not also remain helplessly inactive when a situation demands immediate action to save life and property in danger. Citizens expect the police to be effective, humane, and responsive in all situations.


Today, a strong opinion is expressed from many quarters that all-round reforms are needed in the police system and functioning touching both theory and practice. Created in the mid-19th century by the British Government, the Indian police organization has undergone some reforms from time to time but not to the extent needed or sought. 


Changing socio-political conditions and development and adoption of new rights and philosophies necessitate changes in the role and strategies of the police. Criminology has changed a lot, introducing new perceptions on crime and punishment. The training of the police personnel has to change accordingly. 


Instances of police brutalities and custodial violence, and cases of police-criminals nexus are increasingly reported in the media, and have become almost regular column and feature. In India, perhaps due to the image created in the colonial days, the police is unfortunately never treated as “friends of the public”, but as a monster to frighten children and make them obey.


While efforts are needed to change the negative image of the police, the idea of community policing is now and then mooted as a way of promoting people-police collaboration for better crime prevention. Way back in 2003, the Bureau of Police Research and Development had recommended the creation of “community policing” as a part of normal policing. 


In the present context of growing cases of atrocities against women, it may be useful to turn to the support of the public in crime prevention and apprehension of criminals.


The idea of community policing system became popular in the US since the 80s and has been adopted in Latin American countries.  It is an attractive reformatory concept of policing in conformity with the current participatory approach in governance. But, the western system cannot be transplanted wholesale as our needs and purposes and more than that, our preparedness are different.  We have to create an Indian model suited to our facilities and conditions.


First of all, community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that use police-public partnership in policing and adopts problem-solving techniques to address ground situations that give rise to crimes and threaten public safety. In the present Indian conditions, even when the police at the lower levels need to be educated on law, rights, and justice, such a partnership may not be feasible or desirable in many areas.


However, this philosophy, which shifts emphasis from statistics to problems, may be adopted to the extent that crimes are to be treated not in isolation and as incidents, but one in which they occur, and crime prevention should address the problems behind the crimes.  This aspect of crime prevention can be efficacious if public participation is available to provide the inputs necessary to police functioning.


The mode of public participation is not to be restricted to individual participation though it is not ruled out. Police can obtain vast information from groups and organisations including schools, hospitals, temples and other places of worship, commercial places, etc., which attract people with different background. Systematic collection of data about an area and its residents and constant updating can be an essential part of community policing. This will increase police-public contact and communication and lessen routine bureaucratic notings within the police hierarchy.


This strategy is likely to transform policing which is presently a reactive force into a proactive one of problem-solving service.  Crimes such as drug addiction, female foeticide and infanticide, molestation of women, domestic violence, child labour, bonded labour, possession of bogus ration cards etc., can be better tackled in partnership with the residents of the area of crime.


In India, as revealed in several incidents, there is need to protect the public from police excesses and brutalities on the streets and inside police stations. For policing the police, and checking police inaction, delay and unfriendly behaviour, there cannot be a better instrument than people themselves. The primary responsibility of community policing, if it were to emerge in an organised form, will be safeguarding the rights of the public, and preventing the  degeneration of law and order in the course of maintaining order by force.


To discharge these responsibilities, there must be a mechanism for police-public interaction in a spirit of cooperation and positive approach.  A permanent mechanism can conduct discussions and find solutions better than ad hoc committees set up in a crisis situation when matters go out of control.


A few experiments of community policing modeled on the concept of Neighbourhood Watch in the US are going on in various States in India under different names. The Friends of Police in Tamil Nadu, Prahari in Assam, Maithri in Andhra Pradesh, Mohalla Committees in Mumbai, Gram Raksha Samitis and Nagar Raksha Samitis in Madhya Pradesh are some models of community police. Helpline for children, and women in distress are operating throughout the country and have to be encouraged, for they can address the root causes of problems that lead to delinquency, disorder, and destitution.


Faith in community policing stems from a belief in the integrity and fair-mindedness, common sense, and mature ethical principles held by common people. But, political party politics and caste and religious attachments can undo whatever people can achieve without affiliations.  In our country, there are reports of cases of political leaders presiding over mass child marriages, secretly extending support to sati worship and caste segregation, and actively inciting communal clashes while the police remain passive observers.


In several States, the police has become the tool of the ruling party blatantly used and misused to favour lawlessness of allies and victimise opponents. Community policing must keep away from politics and party attachments.


As VR Krishna Aiyar once observed, human rights will be in peril if we do not humanise the police and institutionalise a system to police the police. It may be worthwhile to promote public participation in policing.---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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