In the 21 century, policing is up against a formidable challenge
Most of the current literature on policing is made up of what policemen pen about their own achievements, disappointments, and travails. If such writing is largely subjective, it is as it should be, because only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. Policing can, however, greatly benefit from what an outsider has to say about its quality.
To have an experienced intelligence officer write about the police is particularly welcome and refreshing, a break from tradition that should be encouraged. The intimate functional link between the two professions is common knowledge. Wherever they have worked harmoniously, the synergy has done a world of good to both.
Lawyer by education, Thomas, author of the book under review, covers a wide spectrum of issues impinging on the police. But the canvas he has chosen is too broad and ambitious to make an impact on the more serious reader who looks for an in-depth analysis. I wish he had confined himself to fewer burning problems — for instance, terrorism and the legal constraints the police have in combating it; efforts of the police to bridge the gap that exists between the force and the community; and the impact of technological advances on its functioning. Nevertheless, there is clarity and passion in what he articulates.
Thomas' point that the growing dangers to national security demand a high degree of police professionalism, especially at the cutting edge level, is unexceptionable. Success in police work is not a matter of luck, as some policemen are inclined to believe. It has very much to do with an assiduous application of time and energy, which alone can bring dividends, especially while handling an intricate and complex problem like terrorism.
While joining the endless debate on political interference in police routine, Thomas lays stress on the need for the right type of leadership to resist unethical directives to the police, and this may look habitual and trite. But it has to be reiterated at every forum like a ‘mantra', so that those in the higher echelons and who command policemen do not easily buckle under political pressure or otherwise deviate from the right path. We definitely want fresh ideas on how senior police officers can resist politicisation of policing. Unfortunately, Thomas' work has nothing to offer, like every other piece of literature in recent times.
A salutary feature of the book is that it devotes a full chapter on human rights vis-a-vis the police, wherein Thomas dwells at length on the misuse of the power to arrest, even after the Supreme Court had clearly enunciated the law and the prescribed procedure for making arrests. It is true that the police have a tendency to make arrests unnecessarily. With better supervision by the higher-ups and sound training in law at the time of induction, this undesirable practice can be expected to become a thing of the past in a gradual manner. This optimism flows from the fact that, these days, policemen seem to be less inclined to resort to illegal custody of suspects, something that had frequently brought odium to the police in the past.
In the 21st century, policing is up against a formidable challenge in the form of a bewildering range of crimes in cyber space, thanks to the phenomenal advances in Information Technology. Fortunately, new recruits to the police, especially to the IPS, are clued-up in this area. There is awareness even at the bottom of the hierarchy that developing skills in the handling of computers is the only way to improve one's career prospects. The ‘IT-oriented policing', which Thomas speaks of, is already in place in most of the police forces. At the same time, there is an urgency to train more personnel, especially those in the less developed States, so that they make good use of computers in their day-to-day work as well as while investigating crimes where a computer had been misused by the offender.
On the whole, Thomas' book should serve as a useful tool in police training and as a trigger for a wider debate on improving the quality of policing in the country. Whether it would go far enough to flush the system of all evils is a moot question.