Healing Police with self-reform
Internally initiated structural changes without any additional resources will bring the reform the police needs to be optimally efficient
That riposting police is a necessary evil and needs reform, provoked former Commissioner of Mumbai Police on September 1, 2018, on NDTV at the Big Fight episode, to lament that civil society has done little to reform the police. He is bemoaning, thus, when Supreme Court mandated specific reforms on 2006 Parkash Singh and N K Singh petition have done virtually nothing in over a decade to reform the police functioning in India. No Court and no outside intervention can reform the police is the truth of it all. The Supreme Court had issued three significant orders – the creation of State Security Commissions, the formation of Police Complaint Authorities, and the creation of separate wings of police: one for crime investigation, and the other for handling Law, Order, and Prevention of crime. There is just shambolic compliance of these directives in some States, including Delhi.
The State Security Commissions are not selecting the police chiefs; it is the Chief Ministers who are taking the final call. Police Complaints Authority (PCA) can not only ensure that the public complaints are properly looked into, but also encourage better conduct and behaviour among the police, and save them from undue victimisation or sacrifice on account of pressure from anywhere. But the PCAs at present serve as sinecures and are loyal to the establishment. The selection process of both these institutions requires a change of bringing in activists in order to serve the intended purpose.
Most importantly, there has been no real separation of the wings of investigation police and law and order police as ordered by the Supreme Court; the thought itself is anathema to police echelons. Oh yes, on paper it exists; enough to hoodwink the Apex Court. The SHO still continues to be in charge of both these wings. When his time and the time of those often drawn from the investigation wing are consumed by law and order, and VVIP duties, where do they find the time-space for investigations? As such a criminal investigation is a battle of wits and time-consuming, thereby suffering.
There is a need for external reforms. Since reform from outside has been sabotaged, this calls for an internal reform. Today, people are antagonistic to police till they need them; then it's toadying up to the police while the police relish it. Police are authoritarian, curt, and unfortunately, often, corrupt. A police station is an unwelcome place for people. Real reform would be to convert it into a people-friendly place where only the criminal should feel the fear.
First, we need two police Stations, one for Investigation and one for Law and Order, as the Supreme Court ordered. Let it be put into practice by physically separating the staff, space and, station house officers. Add one more step. Like the already existing Traffic district that controls all the Traffic Police Stations, a separate Investigation District should oversee all the Investigation Police Stations, and same will be the case with Law and Order District and its police stations. Thus, three functional districts would be working simultaneously in the same area. Starting with this limited separation should suffice. In time, separation could go up the ladder and there may be in the long run two DGPs, one for Investigation, and the other for Law and Order.
Once the Investigation Police Station is set up, staff and functioning should match any public office where the public should feel welcome. Thus, it is time to discard 160-year-old practices and visualise a customer-seller relationship between police and people, a Customer Care number sealing the relationship, if the police have to be a 'necessary friend' of the people. It all needs only a resolve and a new mindset; no additional resources.
As a consequence of this separation, there will be specialisation and innovation in the investigation, like diligently using sting operations to collect evidence. NDTV-sting exposed the criminals and their roles in Hapur case and the lynching of Pehlu Khan in cow-slaughter matters. Can there be a better method of collecting evidence than this? Furthermore, there will be a focus on trials as well. As of today, the SHO and other investigators keep waiting in courts and getting adjournments of cases. A business-like proceeding in court is required. For this, instead of leaving Pairvi, the task of producing all the evidence on record in a case and assisting the prosecutors during the trial, in the hands of the ever-busy investigating officer, it can be given to an exclusive Pairvi officer in every police station. Being conversant with all the facts and documents, he/she can monitor the dates of trial, service of summons and warrants, and also brief the witnesses on time even if the investigating officer is not available. The trial of cases will progress without hitches and adjournments, as successfully proved by the Bangalore Branch of the CBI.
Similarly, the Law and Order Police Station must also take off. It will comprise of the beat police, PCR, traffic police, and VIP Duty Police with sufficient reserves of armed police. Their job is to ensure compliance of law and order in their jurisdiction, and also the prevention of crime. With a full manual on their strength, duties, powers, and functions in place, they will also specialise and innovate in their tasks.
There will be no dearth of people who have out-of-the-box thinking. Even the rudeness of police can also be contained with such an approach. If rudeness is a result of professional frustrations, lack of recreation, etc., then why are the fresh recruits rude? When the same person joins another service, he is not rude. There is an apparent fault in training itself. It should not be forced learning; voluntary learning helps. Trainers use abusive language, in their impatience, to train a large number of recruits, and also as a habit. The teen-aged recruit, who is hurt, cannot retaliate in the name of discipline. When it happens for months, his otherwise soft heart gets hardened and scarred. Humane feelings disappear. He comes out of the training school and finds easy scapegoats outside to get his anger released. And, the atmosphere in the field is so conducive that it becomes a habit. Voluntary learning saves them from the vulgar abuses of the trainers, as successfully proved in Arunachal Pradesh. CDs of the entire training prepared made the youngsters voluntarily become conversant with everything in the first few days followed by the field training, which was a pleasure for them. Training is very important. Like in the Army, the best of talent should handle it.
Innovative initiatives need to be preserved and emulated. The efforts of Vijay Karan, former Police Commissioner, in cracking down on tortures by Delhi Police while at the same time imparting special training to his men did bear fruits, bringing down such incidents by half without any deleterious effect on detection of cases. The doubts of the sceptics that criminals would become audacious were proved wrong. But, once he was transferred, there was a turn-around in the custodial deaths. It only requires an institutional arrangement, and constant public pressure to continue with well-reasoned reforms.
For this purpose, an Administrative Reforms Unit (ARU) is proposed. It would keep doing a periodic review of the functioning of both these police stations, and also other police units. Chipping, chopping, talking to and playing the schoolmaster will improve performance. Needless to say, ARU will be a body with complete powers to propose and implement. The changes mentioned do not require additional resources or change in the control of the government. The DGP, with the backing of the State Home Department, can put them in place and the ARU will oversee them.
The present system of accountability within the hierarchy of police, and eventually to the political authority and judiciary is woefully inadequate. There should be Public Complaints Boards at the district levels which would function under the control of the PCAs. Further, Public Grievances Officers at the state and district headquarters of police should be designated to assist the PCAs and PCBs so that there is a smooth transaction between the police and these institutions. There will be, then, absolute accountability of police actions in this institutional arrangement.
To sum up, it is not enough that systems are mandated and created; their performance requires constant monitoring through a system of audit. Who will audit? The Civil Society and Courts? Who else?
(The author is a retired IPS officer and former member of the Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)