Friday, November 16, 2012

Some Thoughts on Police Reforms

Police reforms are in the air again. While I welcome all the reform proposals, I am very sceptical whether the proposed reforms would bring much relief to the common man who expects the police to protect his life, property, and dignity against criminals of all kinds. This is because such protection can only be provided when the whole of the Criminal Justice Systems functions harmoniously and effectively. So, I am really in favour of holistic reform of the CJS which should ultimately enable the ordinarily talented but honest and diligent policeman to catch the criminals - mafia dons, rogue police officers, corrupt tycoons, unscrupulous politicians et al - and get them punished through the due process of law, but with a degree of certainty which would deter the criminals and dis-abuse the young minds of the notion that crime is cool.

Admittedly, the voices calling for a holistic reform of the CJS are few and faint and one cannot say when  such a reform would be undertaken. However, police officers should  be thinking how they can ensure that their problems are also taken into account, when the time comes.

I note that many police officers have had the ears of the Prime Minister/ Chief Minister, but they were unable to reform the system.So, the police were unable to come up to the the public expectation. Similarly, there have been many outstanding officers, who earned great respect from the public, but the force they commanded did not enjoy the same degree of public confidence, the changes introduced by them could not be sustained after their departure, and the public image of the police remained constant. I particularly note that whenever one body has suggested some measure which could enhance police effectiveness,  another body has raised doubts whether it would not make police even more oppressive, and because of the negative image of the police, the doubts have always prevailed.So, I conclude that the greatest stumbling block, the root-cause of the police problems, is the distrust of the police, which is enshrined in our procedural laws and etched in the  public psyche. Therefore,every police officer who wishes the police to do better, must do everything that he can to dispel this cloud of distrust and make the systemic problems of the police better understood in the public.

How to put this formula into practice is, of course, the million-dollar question

Who do we trust? Do we trust someone who is secretive and who gives vague and elusive answers when asked questions? Do we trust someone who has no time to look into our complaints and shows  no inclination to understand our difficulties? If an officer  hangs around the rich and the powerful and has no time for the ordinary people, can he be trusted to deal fairly with all the cases? Can we repose trust in an organisation which flip-flops on issues of ethical conduct?

I think the first thing that police must do is to embrace openness, in line with the NPC recommendation that " all police activities, to the extent possible, should be open except for four specific areas...." and in no case should they become a  party to cover-up; rather, they should emulate 'Deep Throat' in exposing abuse of power. I am also of the view that advisory committees should be formed for all police-stations and given the right to ask ( as a body, not otherwise ) any questions of the police as also to apprise them of the local concerns. The committees should also be given the right to put any matter (including refusal of information by the P.S.) before the higher authorities and the larger public. In other words, there should be a people's body at the P.S. level with authority to express  public concerns and to expose suspected malfeasance, though not the authority to interfere in P.S. work.

The issue of complaints against police is rather complex. Firstly,  we know that some people would go to any length to 'fix' an inconvenient officer; conversely, police officers can be very ingenious in covering-up their misdeeds. So, cursory inquiries are worse than useless and when an inquiry is undertaken, it must be pursued to its logical conclusion. Secondly, in most districts, the volume of complaints is so large that no officer can attend to them in addition to his normal duties. But there is  the apprehension that if he ignores a particular complaint and it later turns out to be significant, he could be in trouble. So, there is an effort to somehow dispose off' all the complaints, often leading to mistakes. In my view this difficulty should be formally recognised and the district officers should be trusted to make a wise selection of complaints which would be taken up by them for inquiries,leaving the rest to the courts (if the complainant so desires). Thirdly, since it is the duty of supervisory officers to keep their subordinates on the straight and narrow path, a complaint against a subordinate is, by implication, a complaint against the supervisors also and therefore,it can cause resentment among superior officers. If, however,the  supervisory officers could keep their resentment under check and view inquiries as a means to tightening their control over  subordinates,they can not only provide relief to many victims of police malfeasance, but also deter other rogues  and raise the morale of the right-doers within the police .Fourthly, for a variety of reasons, inquiries conducted by superior officers don't always inspire confidence in public.So,it is suggested that in all sensitive matters, inquiry officers should associate  persons of good repute with their inquiries, so that people are convinced of their bona fides.

The company one keeps makes or mars a man's reputation in any walk of life. Being in the eye of the public at all times, police officers should be doubly cautious as to how they cultivate their contacts in the underworld and watch out that they don't spend more time than  necessary with the rich and the  powerful.

 It is no secret that different officers have different degrees of tolerance for third-degree and bogus evidence and for political interference. This results in variations in standards which confuse both the subordinate officers and the public We have discussed the 'ethical' and the 'practical' aspects of these issues for long enough and we should now pay serious attention to the impact that the  inconsistency on these issues  has on police credibility. I think it is now  time  to take a clear stand on these issues and then stand firm in all circumstances.

9th May, 2013.

I think recent developments have fully vindicated the value of the NPC recommendation that all police activities should be open to the extent possible and also my suggestion that " in no case should they (police) become party to cover-up; rather they should emulate Deep Throat in exposing abuse of power." I sincerely hope that serving police officers will mull over the issue and finally, commit firmly to some code.

To my friends who are associated with politics, I would urge that they consider how exposure can be translated into rejection at the hustings. There is an imperative need to make the 'mango-people' understand  how these corrupt practices affect  their  interests and  leave them hanging on the crumbs thrown to them by way of electoral sops.

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