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Gauging public satisfaction a challenge before police

LAW &ORDER Coming from the police, the annual report card is seen as an act of patting one's own back, says Prashant Pandey

The year 2005 is coming to an end and the Delhi police will be busy compiling statistics on their performance. Earlier this year, Police Commissioner K.K. Paul had said that the performance of the police should not be assessed on crime statistics alone but on the quality of service provided by them to the people. The question now is how to assess public satisfaction. And whether, as experts suggest, the police are ready for outside scrutiny.

In the past few years, the police have been telling people constantly that crime rates have fallen. This had become a matter of debate as the factors attributed for more than 80 per cent of the crime are on the rise every year. Since then, it has been constantly pointed out that statistics alone never give the true picture and there was need to develop newer methods to assess police performance.

But while statistics may not be a reliable tool for getting the complete story, there are also very few established ways of quantifying "public satisfaction". Non-registration of crime, fudging of crime records and victims not reporting petty crimes to the police are some of the reasons why statistics are not considered reliable. Also, statistics can disproportionately highlight the achievements vis--vis the situation on the ground.

In so far as public satisfaction is concerned, the police report usually contains sections on the Police Control Room regarding the number of calls the Unit received and its response time. There are also sections on traffic management, action taken against erring police officers and improvements made in the grievance redress mechanism.

These reports too are taken with a pinch of salt for the simple reason that, coming from the police, it is seen as an act of patting one's own back.

Therefore, whatever claims the police may make in their annual report in terms of statistics and public satisfaction, there will be some degree of cynicism in accepting them. It is in this context that the police could venture out and seek the "outsider's opinion".

It could be done by way of commissioning studies, surveys or any other method of assessing public opinion by independent agencies. The agencies, experts say, should explicitly mention in their studies the methodology, sample size and the specific issues on which the public view was sought. Also, the public should be informed about the agency and its complete background. There should also be transparency in commissioning these studies. This would ensure that all and sundry do not come up with half-baked reports thereby leading to more confusion than providing genuine information.

These exercises, however, can only be periodic affairs. The police will also have to look at developing some internal mechanisms for monitoring the situation on the ground on a day-to-day basis to ensure a high degree of public satisfaction. Creating more outposts (for collecting complaints only) as recommended by the National Police Commission, re-establishing the practice of inspection of police stations and taking people's version about the response time are some such ideas.

Of course, there are many in the police force who feel that too many outsiders and too many new ideas simply affect normal policing which, if done in the right manner, can solve most of the ills. The challenge before the top brass of the Capital's police therefore is to take forward the concept of evaluating performance on the basis of public satisfaction, despite cynicism.

They can certainly go for it on an experimental basis in this regard. This would not only give new insights into the effectiveness of method in gauging public satisfaction but also clear the air for those in the police who feel that policing would be affected by too much interference. Also, the police might just get a more realistic picture of how satisfied the public exactly is. In case the results are positive, steps can be taken to institutionalise the same.

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