The Bapi Sen incident brought to the fore the reluctance on the part of the common people to cooperate with the law enforcement agencies. This unwillingness to assist the police results from a mistrust that has been nurtured over and has seeped into successive generations. It is essential to bridge the gap and this can be done only through community policing.
Community policing is a process of decentralization of administration, in which community members and the police work together to detect and prevent crime and criminal activities in a particular region. With the support and aid of local people, police officials would assess and identify problems, explore man power and utilize resources effectively. This could be called “policing by consent”.
Community policing has a distinct British legacy. Till the Industrial Revolution, maintenance of law and order in England was a collective local and social responsibility. The “Frank pledge” system prevailed till the early 14th century under which males above the age of twelve formed a group called “tything” with nine neighbours. Ten tythings were grouped into a hundred and was supervised by a constable. Ten hundreds were grouped into a “shire” which was supervised by a reeve. In 1663, Charles II instituted a night watch for London, whereby a thousand watchmen patrolled the streets from dawn to dusk. The “London Bobbies” acted as friend, philosopher and guide to Londoners.
The concept of a distinct policing theory can be traced back to the second half of the last century, which witnessed a proliferation of community policing projects world wide. After World War II, the police in Britain took care to teach community members how to protect their homes, factories and shops against a break-in. The Sussex police have been pioneers in establishing a working relationship with schools. Community policing helped erase distrust, particularly among racial minorities. In recent years, Japan has laid considerable emphasis on seeking citizen support in the maintenance of law and order.
Community policing has not been entirely alien to India. In ancient India, community participation in policing was essential. The village headman, popularly referred to as gramin or gramadhik, appointed police constables or rakshaks. It was a decentralized system of administration which centred around groups of villages manned by the police personnel to maintain law and order.
Fits and starts
Later, the British introduced a well-defined police system in India to support its coercive colonial rule. That image of the police force still exists. Together with malpractices like the concoction of cases, staging of fake encounters and so on have marred that image further. Though we are aware of the risks policemen undertake, the public perception of the force being corrupt is yet to change. Since independence, the Indian police force has been trying to get rid of its colonial past and associations without much success.
However, to foster a positive relationship between the people and the police some experiments have been undertaken in different states. Take the neighbourhood watch scheme in Assam or the constitution of maithri committees in Andhra Pradesh made of common people nominated by station house officers. In West Bengal, community policing has been launched in Bolpur, Siliguri and Durgapur. The Calcutta police have also tried to nurture good public relations through sports and cultural activities involving the youth.
However, such projects have been sporadic in nature. There is a need to institutionalize the system and change the attitude of the people towards the police force. A new police act catering to the demands of the new century should be framed. Only a symbiotic relationship between the police and the community can make easy the arduous journey towards a crime-free society.