Towards a new social contract: Police and society

Recently, while talking to around 150 probationers at National Police Academy in Hyderabad, several interesting issues emerged.

DNA/Anil Gupta

Recently, while talking to around 150 probationers at National Police Academy in Hyderabad, several interesting issues emerged in the context of rising expectations of society and declining autonomy of police forces. It seems that all of us want police to keep villages and city safe, but we don`t want to go deep into the issues that still affect this force governed by colonial laws and rules. All political parties will mention this is in their manifestos but when it comes to giving autonomy to the force and ensure meritocracy in posting and promotions, they will start cribbing, and sometimes cringing. If despite that, so many officers and policemen are able to rise to the occasion, credit must go to the professional ethics and social commitment of the concerned policemen and women.

There is general indifference towards outstanding contributions of people in the police force. I began by asking the question: Is pursuit of excellence and social responsibility an ethical imperative? Do we not commit great injustice to ourselves by expecting less from ourselves? How do we resolve the paradox of increasing political assertiveness in running of the department and reduced willingness of police force, particularly lower wings (but not just them) to stand up for their professional integrity, values and principles. Similar equanimity during communal tensions is also an issue that bothers several purveyors of existing dilemma before upright officers. Respecting the rights of dalits and the other disadvantaged people cannot be left to the ability or inability of an officer to stand up for justice. It is the constitutional obligation of everybody in the force.

I noticed that a very large majority of probationers would like to stand up for what they believe in and yet will they be able to keep this promise to themselves? I hope that they do.

Subhash Goswami, director, NPA, shared a very interesting example of 100% registration of FIRs in what is called as Jalpaiguri experiment by Tirupurari. In this model, registration of all FIRs was made compulsory. The hesitation of police to do so was overcome by putting a number below the maximum investigations they could do. If they could do only eight, target of investigation was kept as five. It was made clear that unnecessary arrests will not be made for minor crimes. The accused can go to the court and get bail. The police thana should not have people under detention without a few steps of serious investigation. It was realized that rather than using excessive force, due implementation of laws was more effective.

While number of cases registered went up massively, attention was focused on serious crime which earlier got less attention because of trivia taking over the time and attention. Ethical code of conduct for fair and just policing may be needed. This code will imply lesser load of work by better management of complaints and greater transparency. Unwanted arrests were curtailed considerably in this model and the law was enforced strictly. Subsequently, more people started surrendering. In many cases, confession of crime where the punishment was lesser became a norm.

The ethical path is not only more efficient but also grants more autonomy and agency on the staff. It does not incentivize politicians to interfere unnecessarily. I wish the National Police Academy develops a database of various innovations, small or big, tried in different parts by police officers and staff. Politicians will also learn to respect their boundaries once they know that people are more satisfied when police are allowed to work honestly and without cutting corners.

Re-formatting of the mindset of police force will follow if we start recognizing positive steps and initiatives and give fewer opportunities to forces which benefit from the current norms of inefficiency and corruption. Like in any other system, police force is not devoid of efficient officers and staff but we know much less about their efforts and thus enough social motivation is lacking. It is time to bring about not only police reforms but also mindset reforms.

The writer is a professor at IIMA

(The story was first published on July 29, 2013 in DNA newspaper)