Shake Well Before Use: Indian Police, Reimagined

PoliceOver the past weeks we have been tormented by police brutality in the Southern State of Tamilnadu, India, where a Father-Son duo were apparently tortured and done to death while in police custody. It was the culmination of a series of missteps and over-reach by the Police while enforcing the Close-Shop Rules of the Coronavirus Pandemic Lockdown. Obviously, they were arrested for breaking down-shutter rules, failing to close their Shop strictly at 8pm – the ordered time. While an investigation is underway on what actually happened, and the sequence of events is being constructed, there is an outpouring of rage by the community at the local level, and society at large. It’s always difficult to prove a thing, after it has happened – with conclusive evidence – even when it’s absolutely clear on how it occurred. What did they do to deserve such maximum punishment, passed off as death due to inherent conditions over an iron-load of untruths? Why couldn’t the Police simply seal the Shop, after a couple of warnings, if indeed there was a violation? Many questions linger. Meanwhile, there is fire of injustice burning, and can probably be doused only when those responsible are punished and brought to heel, in kind. Will they?

I take a step forward and say, ‘should not we throw out the present British Colonial Era Policing System, where the Police have taken it upon themselves – and we have allowed them – to wield fearsome, unimaginable powers. Is it not time to bring in change and reform? And should not we usher in a practical, citizen-friendly policing system? The same Police who stand like lamp-posts, every metre on a dry, never-ending Highway, while a Chief Minister passes, saluting, bending and bowing as they would do to the Queen of England, transform the very next moment, to throw a booted kick or land a lathi punch on someone brought to the Police Station for questioning. The spring-back anger of servile bending gets unleashed on a poor petty criminal. Servants of the people? My foot!

The British had developed the policing system in India to keep dissent under check, to arrest and punish people fighting for freedom and independence from their rule, in addition to the normal crime prevention and detection duties. When they left, and we got our hard-earned freedom, they passed-on the System, which we have have diligently watered and grown – used by the Government and Politicians to freely demonstrate their hold, power and authority. Is this that the Police are for? When was the last time we overhauled the Police System? In simple words, the purpose of the Police is to enforce Public Order based on the foundation of the Rules of the Land, prevent crime and civil disorder; ensure safety of possessions of citizens and public property, and assist people in many ways, such as way-finding on the streets of the Cities and Towns.

In today’s India no one would wish to walk into a Police Station, unless called or asked to do so. And if called, it’s with fear and trepidation that the move is made.

We need to redesign and reinvent the Policing System to make it relevant to the present-day requirements. It should be such that it is a ‘social’ participation between the Police and the Local community, nurtures trust and a sense of obligation in the community and breeds an unspoken arrangement where people help each other, and ultimately form a strong glue to hold everyone together.

Should not the Police System be designed ‘keeping in the cross-hairs’ that crime can be deterred by increasing the perception that criminals will be caught and punished – with convincing evidence? The certainty of being caught is a vastly more powerful deterrent than the punishment itself. This should act as a Crime Stopper.

Let’s look at the Japanese Kobon System, practiced in one of the safest cities in the World, Tokyo, Japan, as an example. The Japanese believe that criminal behaviour is an illness that needs to be cured and this influences the structure of their Policing.

Policing should be done at a local or even an individual and family level and integrated towards developing a Community Watch System. On similar lines, of the Kobon System, we should set-up small Police Boxes in every Ward / Block (Tehsils)/ Village (Gram Panchayat) consisting of a simple office (without a lock-up) and manned round-the-clock by say, six to ten officers working in shifts. These Police Officers shall not wield the great Indian lathi, or any weapons. However they should be well-versed in smart hand-combat (remember the valiant heroes of the recent Ladakh Indo-China Conflict) disarming techniques and negotiation skills. They should be super cool, smooth operators. These are separate from the regular Police Stations in the locality where sit the Officers with the lathis, guns, the weaponry and the firepower. A certain number of Police Boxes may be under the control of a regular Police Station in the area, which should be a visible reminder of Police presence. The Officers posted at the Police Box should serve a period of at least five years in the Box so that they get familiar with the neighbourhood.

It is the job of the Officers in the Police Box to know what’s happening in their area of control-with a public order controlling perspective, keep a record of people coming in and leaving as often as a couple of times a year; events and activities happening; be informed on the old, the disabled and those suffering from transmittable diseases; besides convicted and released criminals. They also promote safety measures and advise people on ‘target hardening’ – making it harder for an offender to access means of committing a crime. With modern surveillance systems it should be easy for a Police Station at the local level, and the Higher Officers sitting at the various Headquarters, to keep track of citizens in an unobtrusive manner.

The Police Boxes act as a first level of continuous surveillance and monitoring means, keeping the Police Station updated on any changes and reporting crime and calling for action to be taken. In the event of a crime or an unrest, they quickly move to the scene only after informing the Police Station of the locality, should back-up be required, to calmly take stock of the situation and investigate. They should be assisted by Detective(s) – specialised in investigation and reading of crime signs – who is either placed at every Police Box or shared among a few Police Boxes in the area. The Detectives recruited should be specially trained in close collaboration with the Police and deployed in the Police Stations and Police Boxes across the Country. Almost all criminals in India get away and beat the system due to ‘lack of sufficient evidence’. This hole should be plugged.

In the event of a theft or crime, a citizen approaches his area Police Box to make a Complaint and any First Information Report (FIR) is made at the Police Box based on the statements of the affected. A separate report on the investigations conducted by the Detective is sent to the main Police Station for further action. All arrests are made by the Officers of the Police Station in collaboration with the Police Boxes.

Detectives, who should be in plain clothes, and when necessary wear uniforms, go about the job of investigation much like Sherlock Holmes in coordination with the Police Station or Police Box. It may be worthwhile for Detectives to carry licensed guns, mostly for self-defence (shoot below the knees, mind it).

The Police should publish relevant data on the Police Officers manning the Policing Stations and the Police Boxes so that the citizen knows the background of the Officers they are dealing with. The methodology of police action and arrest procedures for various kinds of offences should be published and made absolutely transparent; it should be ensured that citizens are fully aware of their rights, especially when it pertains to arrest and being put in a Police Station lock-up. The Police Boxes will serve this function well.

The Police should clearly define use-of-force, and what constitutes an ‘excessive use of force’, educate the people, and apply it commonly across the Country.

The Police should be independent of Political interference, receiving Orders only from the Head of Police who is turn is advised by the District Collector or Minister  Incharge of the Police, or maybe even the Governor of the State.  The Police – Political – Lawyer nexus, presently on tacit display, should be broken.

Getting the police and community together regularly is a sine quo non of the new System. Hold round-tables with Police Stations and residents, and have neighbourhood Police Boxes participate; hold a community meeting to get inputs on the changes to ensure they are in fact helpful to the community in a continuous improvement mind-set. The Police Box can also organise and train, what we can call, ‘Citizen Police’. They are residents who agree to take classes on public safety and conflict prevention, who are then called to assist in volatile situations. They may help to ensure that the area’s protests say, against any police brutality remains peaceful.

I’m not a trained Police Officer to suggest a detailed road-map on how to structure the new system, but as a Citizen, a member of the Local Community this is what I would like the Police System to be. Town Hall meetings may be organised to garner more thoughts and opinions. The experts should debate, weigh-in and ensure we have a brand new Indian Police in place before 31 March 2021, or at worst, before the first Anniversary of the Tuticorin Father-Son death.

Let’s shake up the Indian Police System, like never before; before using it again.


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