Thursday, September 15, 2016

Why bother with Complaints.

All police forces publish annual reports showing how many complaints were received and how they were disposed off and, although they don't exactly say so, they do convey the sense that all is well. The public perception is, however, quite the contrary and, more and more frequently, people are resorting to agitations in public places rather than petitions to senior police officers to register their protest against police actions (or lack of it). But is it reason enough for over-worked police officers to invest more time and resources in public complaints?

To find an answer, it would be useful to consider what happens when a true complaint of torture in custody is made, an officer inquires and finds it 'not proved'( not necessarily because he wants to shield the guilty, but because proof is really not forthcoming). The first thing that happens  is that the complainant, his family and friends are convinced that the senior officers were complicit in the torture and the public perception that it is futile to take complaints to senior officers gets more firmly entrenched. Secondly, the wrong-doer is emboldened and if he has succeeded in working out some crime by using third-degree and gets rewarded for it, use of torture as a tool of investigation gets validated (Justice MG Chitkara has written in his book that an incumbent Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission advised an assembly of judicial officers that  use of third-degree is to some extent a part of the investigative process) and the right-doers get demoralised. Thirdly, the other subordinates, who know what all has happened, lose faith in the officer's competence and lose respect for him, attenuating his moral authority over the subordinates. Fourthly, corruption gets entrenched: we must remember that third-degree is indispensable for extorting bribes and  if people do not fear torture at the hands of the police, the police can't make money. Fifthly and most importantly, when new recruits join the police, they find that they have two sets of role-models to choose from. One comprising third-degree specialists, seen as intrepid (willing to dare the law and their own officers to catch them out), public-spirited (as they claim that they torture suspects only to help the victims of crime), relatively professionally successful and highly spoken of in the public, and well-off (on bribes). The other set, comprised of right-doers, is seen as plodders, not very successful professionally , well spoken of in public but considered fit to be put in temples rather than in field , and not so well off (living on their salaries alone). There can be no doubt which set wins the vote of the young minds and thus, it affects the character of the whole force in the long run.

The answer to the question posed must, therefore, be an emphatic yes. For organisational health, it is imperative that supervisory officers inquire into complaints against their subordinates, as many as they can handle, and bare the truth, no matter what it takes in terms of their time and energy. However, there is another factor to be taken into account: nowadays, the mood of the people is such that  even the most diligent inquiry may not be accepted by the people if it ultimately exonerates the accused police officer. Therefore, senior police officers would be well advised to associate a person of repute with their inquiries. If the State Human Rights Commission, the State Women's  Commission and the State SC/ST Commission are agreeable, their nominees should be invited to co-chair any inquiry.

Before closing, I would mention an incident which shows how strongly third-degree methods affect the people. There was a murder and as SP I went to supervise the investigation. On arrival in the village I was met by the Station  Officer and the Circle Inspector who told me that a person who had been sleeping near the deceased had confessed to the crime and been taken into custody. So, after spot-inspection, I spoke to the person and he readily confessed to the crime and gave fairly detailed account of it. However, he did not seem to have a motive and his body language made me suspect that he was lying and I began to question him. Finally after about two hours, I was able to persuade him to confess that his original confession was false, that he had nothing to do with the crime and that he had confessed to the crime only to escape third-degree at the hands of the police (although he was adamant till the end that no policeman had suggested it to him). Luckily, we caught the real culprit soon after and secured a conviction from the court .

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On 14th October, all TV channels showed the PM showering fulsome praise on the military personnel
and in the same moment they prominently showed the mother of a martyr complaining that police had demanded a bribe to find her son's medal which had been stolen. The next day, papers also said that CM had asked policemen to be paraded so that the culprit could be identified. Watching/reading the news was a painful experience.

 How one wished that senior police officers handled complaints differently!!