Monday, 30th October 2017

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Community-oriented policing in the 21st century

Policing citizens is a service that is as ancient as our civilization is. Today India is forging ahead as an emerging power on the global stage. As we engage with other nations we need to have all elements of a powerful and secure nation, one of its important constituents being a potent law and order machinery with effective policing. We have a reasonably professional police force and a law and order set up whose primary role is to provide a peaceful, orderly and crime-free environment to the people. According to a study carried out in 2009 by the ministry of home affairs, "As far as performance is concerned, Indian Police forces are rated among the best in the world. However, when it comes to image they are rated amongst the worst. The main reason for the difference in performance and perception lies in the attitude and behaviour of police personnel." This is an area that needs renewed focus and it is imperative that steps must be taken to address the training of police personnel at the cutting edge where their interaction with the public is the maximum, such as traffic control, police stations, control rooms, border check points, airports and so on.

By A modern police force must increasingly look at policing that involves the community in endeavours of law enforcement agencies, writes J.J. Singh
  • Published 8.12.15
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Policing citizens is a service that is as ancient as our civilization is. Today India is forging ahead as an emerging power on the global stage. As we engage with other nations we need to have all elements of a powerful and secure nation, one of its important constituents being a potent law and order machinery with effective policing. We have a reasonably professional police force and a law and order set up whose primary role is to provide a peaceful, orderly and crime-free environment to the people. According to a study carried out in 2009 by the ministry of home affairs, "As far as performance is concerned, Indian Police forces are rated among the best in the world. However, when it comes to image they are rated amongst the worst. The main reason for the difference in performance and perception lies in the attitude and behaviour of police personnel." This is an area that needs renewed focus and it is imperative that steps must be taken to address the training of police personnel at the cutting edge where their interaction with the public is the maximum, such as traffic control, police stations, control rooms, border check points, airports and so on.

Traditionally in Indian society and perhaps in many other countries too, the police have always been regarded with a certain amount of awe and fear. The presence of policemen in any neighbourhood and anyone's house in particular had invariably created a flutter and raised the curiosity levels of the people living there. To a large extent it continues to be so even today. Added to this is an attitudinal flaw in some policemen, who indulge in what is loosely called thanedari or high-handed behaviour. Use of violence or third-degree methods reinforces the perception of an average citizen that the police force is seldom held accountable and often considers itself above the law. The contextual situation becomes more complicated when the criminal-politician-police nexus and VVIP interference gets factored in police functioning. This results in improper investigations and compromises effective policing. The allegations of such a 'nexus' made by a notorious criminal deported to India recently is a case in point. This is not to suggest that such a nexus exists as a rule, although there are exceptions.

The demands on the policeman of the 21st century are manifold. The high aspirations of an informed citizenry make the challenges facing the police quite daunting. Countering terrorism has become a very high priority function of the law enforcement agencies. Most homeland security and counter-terrorism measures are saddled with inconvenient and bothersome actions which are attendant with delays. The citizens need to be taken on board and convinced of the necessity of these steps and geared up to bear with these irritants, which are meant for the good of the society, essentially to enhance public safety. Furthermore, the impact of high technology equipment and a very potent media can be both a force multiplier as well as an occupational hazard for the police force. On one hand, newer technology has enabled the law enforcement agencies to handle 'smart' crimes and criminals, while, on the other hand, every citizen holding a mobile phone can instantaneously transmit a message or photograph to the police or through the internet for worldwide circulation.So, crimes could be solved quickly and even alleged or unsubstantiated transgressions of the law can go viral on the social media and has the potential to damage the reputation built over many years of hard work by an individual or the police force, and lower the morale and self-esteem of the personnel. If proved, such actions would result in quicker punishment and thus lower the crime rate and bring in greater accountability.

The yardsticks of professionalism of the police have undergone many changes in the last few decades and benchmarks raised. The perception that the police force is unresponsive or "not sufficiently accountable to public needs" has to change. Instead of being grateful, lay citizens often take for granted the services of the police force that is ungrudgingly doing what is basically a thankless chore. Although the "police might have been tactically or technically proficient in terms of their professional skills, but as a group they were not proficient communicators", is one of the deductions drawn by a study carried out by the police department of Los Angeles District in recent times. The police needs to shed its isolation and secretive manner of functioning and become more transparent and approachable. Often the police look upon the complainant who visits a police station with suspicion, thereby making the average citizen shy away from lodging a complaint. On occasions there is reluctance by the police to file first information reports as that might result in an increase in crime-related statistics. The police must encourage such actions and participation in the community in preventing and solving crimes and bringing the anti-social elements to book. In a paper presented to the British Parliament on "Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting police and the people" by the home secretary, it has been categorically stated that, "From January 2011, we will ensure that crime data is published at a level which allows the public to see what is happening on their streets and neighbourhoods. We will require police forces to release this data in an open and standardised format". Adopting such good practices would ensure that we have an enhanced efficiency in policing and an informed public, and more importantly result in building trust between the communities and their protectors.

A modern police force must now increasingly look at community-oriented policing that involves participation of the community in endeavours of the law enforcement agencies, and thus help in resolving the problems faced by the community. Collaborative efforts of such nature would definitely help to prevent and control crime. The diverse nature of our population creates challenges of its own. The policing strategy must bear in mind the characteristics of different religious and cultural groups and incorporate awareness of these special features in the police training programmes. The increasing population also generates its own dynamics, which adds to the challenges of policing. Expanding urban areas with an influx of migrants from the rural areas and underdeveloped regions increases the load on the law enforcement agencies and consequently increases the stress on the overworked policeman. Thus, the training of the police must also lay emphasis on stress management and impart instructions on how to handle the pressure of work and meet the expectations of the burgeoning population.

Evidently, in order to have better law and order arrangements based on community-oriented policing, we must invest in a well-trained, led and equipped police constabulary. As emphasized by the British home secretary in the report: "We want to ensure that the remuneration and conditions of service for those that work in policing can support the delivery of an excellent service and provide the public with value for money." In this respect, there is a crying need to enhance the salary and perquisites of our police force and ensure that they are given adequate time to recharge their mental and physical batteries. Moreover, the imperative to undertake measures that would enable the police force to acquire the desired policing soft skills cannot be overemphasized. These skills would comprise communication ability including counselling, public interface and handling of the media, handling of stressful and traumatic incidents, handling of victims of crime, violence and strife, role and importance of social media and information technology, and finally, managing a healthy lifestyle. Short training modules need to be evolved for imparting these soft skills to our police force, which currently is seldom spared for such training because of multifarious commitments. These training capsules would also require to be repeated at regular intervals in the shape of refresher courses. The participation of the community to assist in the resolution of law and order problems will help to make the enterprise not only more efficient but also cost effective.

Succinctly summed up by Commissioner Bratton of Los Angeles Police Department, community policing comprises of three Ps - ' prevention' of crime in the community, 'partnership' and ' problem solving' with the community. Along with the above factors, it is imperative to impart training of soft skills which will not only be useful for law enforcement but also prove invaluable when a community is faced with natural or man-made disasters. Many advanced countries have adopted such an approach to meeting the challenges of policing in the 21st century, as defined in the British paper, "Skills for Justice".

It would be a step in the right direction if the ministry of home affairs and the home department of the states in India also put in place such a policing philosophy and the desired training programmes and infrastructure. As in other advanced countries, in India too this could be done in cooperation with the private sector, which has developed a fairly impressive capability in soft skill training.

Finally a tribute that is widely shared to the unsung guardians of our society from a famous writer, Sidney Sheldon: "My heroes are those who risk their lives every day to protect our world and make it a better place - police, fire fighters and members of our armed forces."

The author is former chief of army staff and former governor of Arunachal Pradesh