Re: CHRI: Eminent Citizens Urge Political Parties to Take Up PoliceReforms
Dear Mr Jha:
You are absolutely right; we do need to take to heart the good practices of other jurisdictions: especially when it comes to day to day police and police performance in average circumstances. The same goes for dealing with terrorists. However there is a great resistance to doing this within the governing establishment as well as the police. There is also another difficulty to be dealt with - which is that our circumstances are entirely unique for all the reasons you know, size, plurality, diversity, a constitution hardly anyone knows about or follows and a failed criminal justice system. It is hard to build on sand.
But I am just grateful that at least there is now the beginnings of a conversation where there was only silence before. Perhaps this will push the envelope forward. My concern is always that having pushed for debate and discussions around how best to improve policing we will be overtaken by the dominant discourse of ' we must have tough policing' which is usually another way of saying ' we must have lawless policing'.
What I would like - idealistic or not - is a police that is fit to police a great democracy: democratic people need a democratic police. My vision of policing is one where the policeman is nothing but a citizen in uniform: just like a pilot is or any other professional is. He has his job. He does it well. He goes at night a happy and contented person with the same privileges and the same rights and duties as any citizen. The only difference is that a policeman has coercive powers. So we have to ensure that they are used within the law even while he ensures that we all uphold the law.
The difficulty is that we have to begin with a definite vision and then go for the change; or the change will not be what we envisioned! At present the vision is blurry and uncertain. If the vision of policing is to turn from a force to a service then the changes to be made follow: ensure operational responsibility ( not independence from the political executive or autonomy); ensure that the leadership leads and takes responsibility for its lapses and the lapses of its own establishment; it cannot keep hiding as it does today behind the cloak that their hands are tied by political masters. This is an abnegation of responsibility to do a duty for which the tax payer is paying.
We also need to make sure that there is role differentiation between the police and the political executive. This does not detract from the power of the elected representatives but it does condition that power and set in place clear boundaries of how it is to be exercised. Once this is done then the chain of command within the police establishment goes back to the police leadership and the top brass becomes the node for accountability for both delivering everyday good policing and for taking and apportioning the blame when there is wrong doing.
Because the police have to be accountable to the law and the law alone, which means that the accountability is not to any individual, momentary political party in power, or to that amorphous category ' the people', there must be mechanisms for accountability in place. There are plenty today, like the human rights commissions, the courts and parliaments themselves. But to make sure policing is done within lawful bounds the mechanisms in place must be effective mechanisms which people can believe in, approach easily and whose workings can be seen clearly and have confidence in.
At present the police is not certain to whom it is accountable and the mechanisms of oversight themselves are weak. If you see the number of hours spent by the assemblies on examining police performance or wrong doing it is minuscule. There is little expertise to keep a sharp eye on policing, and even less interest in making independent evaluations because the police - given present arrangements - is so useful to politicians - to curb dissent, get at enemies, exercise patronage and retain as its own pet poodle. Internal disciplinary procedures are little known and little trusted. The courts are in crises and cannot provide the quick certain relief that victims of bad policing need. As a result good people within the police are not able to rely on bad ones being punished or bypassed. So they either go with the flow, or keep their heads down while more and more unscrupulous people are attracted to the obvious lures of unaccountable functioning and financial possibilities of unfettered power.
In many many jurisdictions which have much in common with our own there are good practices that deal with making policing better: there are agencies charged with examining police behaviour; institutional biases; year on year performance; public satisfaction and the agencies own internal health. Special attention is paid to good leadership and management practices, to performance evaluation of police stations, departments and individuals. Rules relating to fire arms and use of force are stringent and well regulated, vigilance and compliance are monitored at various levels and merit rewarded through promotions and recognition. Police needs such as their finances, human resources, infrastructure, equipment is taken care of in rational ways and training goes on throughout their careers. From this comes efficiency, specialisation and fitness for every new post held.
Strangely all this is possible here and indeed can be done even under the present legislation as it exists or with very little tweaking but the truth is that the worst aspects of the system have become so strongly embedded within the polity and the police - and the public has so little say - that for decades things have been prevented from moving on from the police that we have to the police that we need. I hope I've been able to suggest the practical steps that are needed to arrive at the ideal I envisage. Only public opinion can make it happen.
-- Maja Daruwala Director Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative B-117, First Floor, Sarvodaya Enclave New Delhi, INDIA __._,_.___
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