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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)

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  When will the police in India earn the trust of the common man?
The question was put to me by a nephew on a visit to India recently from USA, where he has been settled for last more than 10 years, teaching in a University. The query was prompted by his experience in the towns in India that he had visited, of reluctance on the part of people generally to approach the police, even where police help could be validly sought and justifiably expected, unless the matter was serious and police intervention unavoidable. According to him, in America, police response is usually prompt and attitude sympathetic and helpful to the person in distress. On the contrary, in India, he found the general public impression to be that reporting to police would be an exercise in futility and could even turn out to be an invitation to prolonged harassment. Police would often even avoid registering a report, at least promptly, much less responding quickly. Reporting to the police might entail endless visits to the police, and later to the courts (if the matter reached there), and, finally, often with no results after years, sometimes decades, of wait. Even worse, the aggrieved himself could be pressurized to pay for police help or compromise with the aggressor, especially if the later happened to be a person of means or resources. A person from non-affluent background or without any approach (the 'common man'), might not even get a civil treatment at the police station. In his perception, the policeman usually is an insensitive and corrupt bully. How does anyone expect him to trust the police in this scenario?

This despite the fact that the policeman, by all accounts, is one of the most overworked functionaries of all the government departments, working invariably for more than the normal 6-8 hours for most other government servants, with generally no over-time allowance or weekly offs, not even festival holidays to celebrate with his family. He has to slog the beat when others sleep, come rain, hail or biting winter cold. The risks in his job are increasing everyday--he not only faces mob violence during riots and agitations but is also being increasingly targeted by criminals, terrorists and other unruly elements. Every year about 1000 policemen, both from civil police and para-military forces are killed on duty.

This also despite the well-accepted recognition now of the importance of community cooperation and participation for meaningful and effective policing and initiatives by police officers in several states to involve the community in policingCommunity Liaison Groups (on a model developed under a UNDP Project), Neighbourhood Watch, Thana Committees, Mohalla Committees, Dost, Senior Citizens Schemes, Friends of the Police etc. While these set ups, no doubt, help in better sensitization of policemen and improving police-community interface, especially in the area of their operation, they have their limitations. Particularly, they have not been able to bring about an over-all attitudinal change in policemen, which is essential for earning the trust of the people. Problems are understood to be faced under such schemes due to various factors, such as:
  • Difficulty in sensitizing the policemen as a whole;
  • Temptation for unscrupulous elements among the public to join for their own ulterior motives;
  • Loss of interest and momentum with passage of time, and more particularly, after the transfer of the officer on whose individual initiative such schemes are often started.

As I told my nephew, there is no simple solution or answer to his query. Besides the deficienciesoperational and attitudinalin police functioning itself, there are several other factors also which distance the common man from the police--not being the servant of law under our system, its subservience to political and bureaucratic control and interference, the historic background of Indian police, the very naturenegative--particularly of its enforcement duties, some provisions in the law which themselves are based on lack of trust in the police, manner of functioning (non-functioning) of the criminal justice system etc.

While more intensive and sustained efforts will need to be made with regard to external factors enumerated above, the basic requirement for the police to achieve public acceptance and earn the confidence of the common man would be to put its own house in order. National Police Commission had analysed police partiality, corruption, and failure to register cognizable offences as some of the most important factors for the unsatisfactory police-public relations. These evils in police functioning will need to be targeted vigorously and unsparingly.

The trust of the common man would be truly won the day he, when in distress or need of bonafide police help, can walk into a police station with the confidence of being treated in a civil manner with empathy and getting prompt and fair response without having to take recourse to any approach or corrupt practice, irrespective of his own economic or social status or that of the aggressor/offender. Till then, no number of community policing measures, under whatever name or guise, would be of much help. Bringing this ethos to he police would need determined and unrelenting efforts on the part of police leadershipthrough training and sensitization inputs, constant advising and cajoling, inspiring by example, unsparing action against those not responding to these efforts and operationalising and enforcing accountability on the supervisory chain.

As brought out by National Police Commission, the negative image of police is often more among those whose opinions were based on what they had heard than those who interacted with the police. The biggest contributor to this hearsay negative image is the media, both print and electronic (including the increasing number of soaps and talk-shows on the small screen), which usually gives much larger space to police failures, functional as well as behavioural, than its achievements or constraints and limitations under which it has to function. While any real image change has necessarily to be based on better professional performance and improvement in behavioural aspect of police functioning, steps for better sensitization of the media would also be imperative. Besides accessibility and transparency in dealings with them, continuous interaction, including at higher editorial levels, for a balanced projection of police functioning and clarifying the correct facts, in case of any instances of serious or biased reporting, should be of help in this regard.

(Contributed to Police Commemoration Day Souvenir 21.10.2004)

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