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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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In modern democratic societies, the police is vested with authority of using legitimate and situationally justified force against the citizens. Albert Reiss has aptly said that, "at law police in modern democracy posses a virtual monopoly of legitimate use of force against civilians and to examine the police use of force is to examine an activity at the core of politics and society".

In India very often there are justified and shocking complaints about misuse or abuse of force by police. An impression prevails that the police force in the country are full of bloodthirsty maniacs and sadists who relish the sight of broken skulls and blinded eyes. In police force everywhere there are always some officers and men who are violence prone and trigger-happy, but there are also many others who are idealistic, considerate and have empathy for the public. Unfortunately, regarding these aggressive trigger-happy Police officials and their motivation and characteristics, very little empirical research has been done in India.

In USA Christopher Commission looked into the use of force by the Los Angeles Police (1991) after the Rodney King incident and pin pointed a group of officers who are aggressive, violence prone and resort to improper use of force. The Commission identified by going through the records of the Los Angeles Police Department, (LAPD) that there were about forty-four officers with six or more allegations of excessive use of force or improper tactics during the period from 1986-1990. The Christopher Commission, however, also pointed out that higher number of cases of use of force by an officer may not always show that he is violence-prone. Active and energetic officers assigned to high-crime areas or officers on specialized duties will use force more often and generate more complaints against them, than an ordinary officer performing routine duties. The Commission also noted that there were many successful and productive officers in high crime areas, who do not accumulate many complaints against them.

Organizational Culture

According to many criminologists and police scholars frequent use of force and violence by an officer is influenced by organizational style and culture. In police forces in India as well as many other countries officers are evaluated by number of arrests made, cases detected, chargesheets submitted and calls attended. They are appreciated for their 'hard-nosed policing' and not for displaying concern for the public. This kind of assertive hard-nosed policing goes to create a mentality that alienates police officials from the community. Again, in many police organisations there is an 'ethic of masculinity'. This leads many officials to hanker after man-of-action image. A young police recruit who does not manifest a man-of-action image is not held in high esteem by his colleagues and very often not accessible to inner circles of the organisation.

Peer Approval

It is also a known fact that in many police organisations rough and ready use of force meets with peer approval. In order to gain peer approval new officers seek out encounters which can turn out to be violent and which have potential for conflict. Dispensing street justice may become an accepted style of working and a convenient rationale for these action-oriented officers. It is also a fact that some of these officers become dispensers of street justice, because they have limited verbal or interpersonal skills, which they try to cover up by display of authority. They are also oversensitive to affronts. They equate disrespect as aspersions on their authority or masculinity. It is these officers who lacking poise and confidence in themselves become oversensitive to affronts and often act violently. Scholars like Niederhoffer offer have felt that many police officers who constantly witness man's inhumanity to man, turn cynical and this cynicism has a corroding effect. Many of them become disoriented and display violent streaks in encounters with the citizens. In this connection perhaps it will be good to make a distinction between brutality and unnecessary use of force. Brutality is wrongful and wilful use of force by exceeding the bounds of the office, but unnecessary use of force occurs when police officers who could have easily tackled the situation by peaceful means resort to use of force. Very often young officers resort to unnecessary use of force, which could have been avoided by experienced and capable officers. It is this unnecessary and avoidable use of force that causes considerable friction between the police and the community. Police brutality, on the other hand, often takes place out of public sight and police also take precautions to see that their brutal deeds escape detection and public notice.

The report of Christopher Commission makes references to LAPD's assertive style of law enforcement as the main reason for aggressive confrontation with the public. It traced this style of policing to a professional organizational culture cultivated by LAPD through training and incentive structure. Officers in LAPD were rewarded for "hard nosed" policing which is likely to bring police in conflict situations with the citizens. Many complaints that were filed against the police personnel could not be substantiated as a result of the flawed procedures for investigating the complaints. Further, sanctions imposed on the police officers, against whom charges of violence and improper use of force substantiated had been light and failed both as a deterrent and as a message that such behaviour was inappropriate.

Some research on the use of deadly force has further shown that strict administrative control has a restraining effect on the frequency with which officers use their firearms. Policies laying down clear rules regarding deadly use of force and providing for strict and effective enforcement of the rules have reduced the number of shootings. It is true that police encounters are very often complex and ambiguous and it is difficult to make judgements about an officer's culpability. However, there are many occasions of clear and wanton misuse of force. Whenever there is clear evidence of misuse of force and display of brutality by police officers, there should be no hesitation to properly discipline them. If police want citizens to know that police brutality is aberrant, they must isolate officers who are trigger-happy and prone to violence. This calls for solidarity against and not on behalf of aggressive officers. Protecting the malefactors through silence and inaction will not help.

In USA, Black and Reiss , 1967, made a large-scale observational study on behalf of President's commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice. In this study emphasis was placed on detailed descriptions of police-citizen behaviour, the social and demographic characteristics of the participants etc. In analyzing the data Reiss found that many instances were there where the citizens behave antagonistically to police officers and "many encounters with deviants did not involve uncivil conduct or misuse of force by the police". But however it has been found that many police officers share the view of the general public that some offenders are despicable people and brutality against them is justified. In India also downtrodden and marginalised groups become targets of police aggressiveness and their human rights are wantonly violated.

Another factor also influences police overreaction. The expectation of danger in job has an impact on the attitude and response of a police officer. It has been found that police officers who face greater dangers in their job are less inclined to see their job as helping the citizens in the community. These officers also tend to believe that community is more hostile to them than is actually the case.

The likelihood of the use of force increases with the bureaucratization of a particular department. It has been found that an officer is more likely to use force when there are other officers to provide physical and psychological reinforcements.

Training Interventions

Proper and well-conducted violence reduction training can have some effect in influencing the conduct and reflexes of the police officers. One of the major purposes of training should be to enable officers to handle their work-related problems better than laypersons. Though training may not compensate for inadequate recruitment of personnel, bad temper and proclivity towards violence are conditions that can be successfully reduced by training. Maintaining one's temper under stressful and confrontational conditions is a skill that can be taught. Attitudinal transformation may not be possible by training, but the modest goal should be to suppress hostile impulses and replace them by more kindly and positive feelings.

However, in devising training strategies precautions should be taken not to make matters worse by creating a sense of paranoia among the police officers. During training officers have to be convinced that there are dangers in police jobs, but such dangers should not be exaggerated. Paranoid officers often over-react with needless violence to minor provocations or no provocations at all. In training programme, very often some worst-case scenarios are presented, but there should, also be a strong message that such incidents are usually exceptions in law enforcement. Further, training for reduction of violence should be continuous. There is need for constant refresher training in violence prevention skills, otherwise, skills learned are likely to atrophy into uselessness. Training should also address the role of police officers during non-working hours. Administrative authorities must define what they expect off-duty officers to do and to refrain from doing. There are cases of off-duty officers using their police powers and prerogatives to resolve personal disputes. There are also instances where good faith, attempts of officers to intervene in personal disputes or less serious crimes have turned into tragedies.

During training focus should be on conduct of officer rather than outcome of incidents. This is important, because interaction between police and the citizens is a two way process. Sometimes police officers act in inappropriate ways. There might be also out burst of violence inspite of reasonable behaviour on the part of the police.

Sankar Sen IPS
Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences
Former Director General, National Human Rights Commission
Former Director, National Police Academy

The views and facts stated above are entirely the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of this Association in any manner.

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