Recently, angry protesters demanded the resignation of the Delhi Police Commissioner, and rightly so. He refused. Heads don’t roll easily in the police.
They don’t roll when a police chief fails to prevent a major terrorist attack; they don’t roll of children are killed by police forces; they don’t roll when commissions of inquiry rule that excess force deliberately targeted one set of rioters while another was given every assistance to rampage.
Why should the Commissioner resign when under his leadership, local police refuse to help find a missing child, are unwilling to file a complaint about it, and instead offer the family a bribe not to approach the media. Clearly no police chief offers a resignation or is asked to step down for poor performance so why should the Commissioner set a precedent?
When the chief is insulated from accountability by friends in high places then it is hardly surprising that across the country subordinates too fear no consequence for their poor response, for their wrong doing, their prejudice, dishonesty and bias. In reality police organizations across the country make no effort to create any objective system of assessing police performance either for individual officers, for police stations or for the force as a whole. It is not surprising then that their performance is in its present state and not surprising then that no officer senior or subordinate is pulled up for his actions.
For the constabulary which accounts for over 90% of the police force, there is no scientifically evolved evaluation system. At the time of appraisal, rewards and punishment given to individual constables are maintained in their service file with a few general remarks. This level of personnel is considered to be an obedient, mechanical functionary acting solely in compliance of orders from his superiors. When not considered fit for any useful policing job, it is safely presumed that any evaluation system can safely bypass him.
For the upper subordinate ranks (ASI to inspectors) the system is not designed to improve performance. Annual Confidential Reports focuses heavily on personality oriented traits like loyalty (one wonders to whom), patience, zeal, general temperament. Job centred traits are conspicuously absent. Nothing in this ACR could assist in identifying the training or development needs of an employee, clearly indicating that the idea is more to enable the department to take administrative decisions rather than improve his performance. More intriguing is the fact that the form used for all government servants (police or bureaucrats) is used by police departments.
The evaluation system for IPS officers is marginally better. There is a self-assessment section where the officer is to give a brief account of his duties and responsibilities and a work plan for the year that is to be agreed with the reporting officer. This is followed by a section containing remarks of the reporting officer, followed by remarks of the reviewing Authority. In theory the scheme sounds good, but doesn’t work as prescribed. Annual work plans are difficult to draw up especially because transfers are too frequent. Across the force – from ASP to IGP -- the forms used for performance evaluation are the same, making no differentiation for the particularities of the job.
As far as evaluating the performance of the organization, the most commonly used parameter is crime statistics. This has resulted in bringing down crime figures by simply not registering FIRs. Another commonly used parameter is preventive action by the police – which means preventive arrests often resulting in unnecessary arrests. A third measure adopted in some states is encounters – a practice that has encouraged a lot of fake killings. This whole faulty system of monitoring individual and organizational performance has resulted in police adopting questionable methods to record and control crime.
Down the years, various committees and commission - the National Police Commission, Padmanabahaiah Committee, Parliamentary Standing Committee and the Soli Sorabjee Committee have not only criticized this method of performance evaluation but also provided alternatives. Most recently the Prakash Singh judgement in 2006 on police reforms signaled the need to go beyond the present one dimensional quantitative crime based assessments of policing. The judgement required the setting up of state security commissions in every state. In addition to setting the policing policy, this Commission is expected to develop a framework that measures performance through indicators such as public satisfaction, victim satisfaction vis-à-vis police investigation and response, perceptions of increased safety and security, accountability, optimum utilisation of resources and observance of human rights standards.
Though the Commission has been set up in Delhi, it is still to take its role seriously. Set up five years after the Court’s verdict, the Commission is flawed in its composition. It has met a few times but is not entirely clear of its role or mandate. No known policing policy has emerged from its meetings nor any evaluation framework.
Even without the State Security Commission to guide it, the police chief has sufficient power to overhaul and improve his force, make them more responsive and ensure that there is no wrong doing on their part. That is his job. Police behavior in relation to the rape of the 5 year old shows that little, if anything, has been done between the deadly incident in December and April. Despite the outpouring of anger at the derelictions of duty in both the December rape and now the rape of a 5-year-old, the police chief feels he is competent enough to continue in post. His superiors, the Lt Governor and the Home Minister are hedging, calculating the fall out and hoping public anger will fade. In protecting the force and its chief from responsibility, the government is sending a strong signal that the safety and security of ordinary people weighs little against the need for an insecure government to have their man at the top.
Navaz Kotwal is Coordinator, Police Reforms Programme with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in New Delhi.