Jaipur: An intensive three-year survey on the Rajasthan Police has reaffirmed grave fears that a large majority of citizens has little trust in the local constabulary and most found policemen to be lazy.
Though there’s no comparable study on the police forces in other Indian states, Abhijit Banerjee, professor of economics at Poverty Action Lab of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-author of the study, said the results could be extrapolated to other states.
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The MIT survey—which interviewed 22,000 households and 3,000 policemen in randomly chosen districts in Rajasthan over three years starting January 2006—found that nearly 71% of the people never reported crimes because most felt the police couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything, and worse, asked for a bribe to register a first information report (FIR).
About 56% of the people thought the police were lazy and 82% said that no constable or inspector had visited their neighbourhood, the survey showed.
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Experts, including top police officers, say the findings of the study are relevant to other states as well, as they come in the backdrop of a wave of terror attacks across India—12 in seven months to December.
The survey has also suggested overhauling the existing method of estimating the crime rate in a region.
“Instead of counting the number of FIRs registered at a station, conducting a household survey (as it happens in the UK and the US) gives a much more realistic view of the crime rate,” said Daniel Keniston, a researcher with the study.
The survey aimed to understand public perception of the police, how policemen view their jobs and the success rate of reforms initiated by the Rajasthan Police since 2006.
The reforms extended to four areas: freezing personnel transfers to reduce external interference in police work and provide security of tenure; inviting the public to sit in police stations for three hours a day to help bridge the communication gap between the public and police; rotating personnel in police duties to increase efficiency and manpower flexibility and a weekly day off; and providing training in both technical and investigative skills.
“There are several reports on police reforms. We didn’t want to merely add to that,” said Banerjee. “This is to check the feasibility of existing interventions.”
Kiran Bedi, Magsaysay award winner and former director general of India’s Bureau of Police Research and Development, who is also a votary of prison reforms, said the study was certainly “useful”, and could apply to the police in other states.
Inviting locals as observers in the police station (ostensibly, to improve communication with the police) didn’t have a marked improvement, but using decoy victims (study participants who tried to register FIRs) significantly increased chances of the police registering genuine FIRs. The report suggests this practice could be integrated into the system.
Though inspectors and constables considered long hours of work as their pet peeve, the weekly off improved overall levels of satisfaction of the force by a mere 3%. However, reducing transfers and the initiation of training programmes visibly improved the public perception of the police. The findings were put out at a seminar hosted by the Rajasthan Police in Jaipur on 21 January.
Delivering the keynote address there, Congress party member of Parliament Rahul Gandhi, while discussing the Mumbai terror attacks, said: “We’ve not paid attention to the Ombales (constable Tukaram Ombale who died while assisting in the capture of Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist captured) in our police force. Though we may discuss equipping them with guns instead of lathis, and give them better training facilities, it is time we listen to what they have to say on their working conditions.”
However, several police officers and experts who attended the meeting said that though the study was rigorously carried out, its recommendations were not new.
“We’ve had eight commissions in the past that have looked into police reforms. Each time similar recommendations were made—more training, reduced workload—but these are rarely implemented.” said A.K. Singh, former director of the Sardar Vallabhai Patel National Police Academy, an institute that trains officers of the Indian Police Service. “Rather than pile on a fresh set of recommendations, our approach was only to evaluate whether existing approaches by the police work or not,” Banerjee pointed out.
The Supreme Court had, in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots of 2002, issued directives to state governments to establish a police complaints authority that would act as a redressal forum against police misdemeanours. However, no state has done so as yet, Singh said.
“The Indian police is an extremely closed system. But the positive part of studies, such as these, is that they compel the police to open up,” Bedi said.
“I am sure that a team of Indian scientists approaching a similar topic would have had more difficulty than the MIT team. It’s paradoxical, but I sense change coming in.”