Changing dynamics of the Delhi Police
In accordance with a recent notification ordered by Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung, constables will now be empowered to take up the investigation of notified criminal offences. It is a development with many long-term positive implications. As per the new notification, constables who rise to the grade of investigation officers will look into crimes such as theft, pick-pocketing, car thefts, and under Arms Act, Excise Act, Gambling Act, and Defacement Act. Earlier head constables and other senior officers investigated these cases.
Usually, in police stations, Inspectors looked into all heinous cases including murder, and cheating. Sub-Inspectors looked into cases such as an attempt to murder and robbery. Meanwhile, Assistant Sub-Inspectors and Head Constables investigated house thefts, burglary, snatching, and cases under Arms Act and Excise Act. After the registration of an FIR, an investigating officer usually handled nearly 100 cases at once. Now the officer can concentrate on every case with dedication and time, depending on its intensity.
For those unaware of the finer modalities of law, an explanation is in order. The two basic statutes that define and determine criminal investigation are the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) 1973. While the IPC is a substantive law that specifies offences and their punishment, the CrPC is a procedural law, which outlines the procedure to be followed. While the CrPC is a central Act, states are empowered to make local amendments to it. One of the provisions of the CrPC is that all investigations are to be done by a police officer. As per the rules, a police officer is defined as a person who is at least a Head Constable. As such, the bulk of police officers in Delhi, and elsewhere cannot take up the investigation of a particular case. Even if they were exceptionally bright, there was a structural limitation. According to this new notification, police constables who are graduates and have ten years of experience can be authorised to carry out the investigation of a notified offence.
With constables getting into the category of “officer”, many of these cases that were languishing will also get attention, and come within the ambit of “rule of law”. When no action is taken in minor cases, offenders are often emboldened, and acquire the impression that laws can be broken with impunity. Therefore, the recent notification will seek to further good governance in more ways than one, and its long-term implications augur well for society.
Whatever the societal implications of the recent notification, it does a lot for the self-esteem of the constables. First, it acknowledges that the constable today, unlike his counterparts of yesteryears, is well educated, net savvy, and capable of taking independent action. Younger constables have better access to information and are less overawed by the hierarchy. True, there was a time when constables were meant to be mere foot soldiers, carrying out the orders of their superiors. Now the minimum qualification level of a constable, Sub Inspector, state police service officer and IPS officer is probably the same- everyone is a graduate. However, the critical difference lies in selection, confidence, training, and responsibility.
Second, the process of investigation will make the constable more aware of procedural aspects of law, maintaining case diaries, following up with the courts, explaining the relevant points to the prosecutor. By the time the person is promoted to a Head Constable or a Sub Inspector, the training in notified cases will be of great help in handling serious investigations.
Thirdly, with the entire range of citizen services coming under the electronic platform – from lodging of First Information Reports to character verification – there has been a rise in the volume of work. With this notification, Delhi police have forty thousand additional hands to take on of this responsibility.
This brings us to the question of induction and in-service training for law-enforcement personnel at all levels. From a constable to an IPS officer, the training given creates an impression that cops have to fight pitched battles with an entrenched army. The time has come to revise the training manuals for police personnel in urban areas, especially those that form part of the Commissionerate system.
Urban cops do need physical stamina and endurance, but more than that they need legal knowledge and the ability to handle modern tools and techniques of investigation. They also need soft skills to communicate and make the citizen comfortable in their presence.
It’s high time the focus of metropolitan police became different and distinct from the BSF, CRPF, and ITBP personnel, who have to handle tough terrains and (at times) recalcitrant populations. The core competence of a police force has to be detection and prevention of crime and offering a sense of security to the community- and this calls for a review of the training procedures and manuals. Such a change will also begin, quietly, like the one mentioned above, without too much fanfare.
There are many thinking minds in the police who are keen to change the working of the police and make it more transparent and citizen-friendly. What we need most in the country is a non-adversarial critique of the police, and creative ideas to improve the system.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)