Even as a vigilance inquiry is under way to verify the authenticity of a Delhi Police sub-inspector’s allegation that a station house officer collected protection money from the area through his subordinates, the public perception is that a large number of policemen do indeed indulge in such malpractices.

While beat policing is considered the basic and the most effective tool for law and order maintenance, it is from here that the system of collecting hafta begin. This is because beat policing comprising the constabulary happens to be at the bottom of the hierarchical structure of the force.

Widely considered the face of the police, the constabulary constitutes a large part of the force. Enumerating the importance of the beat work carried out by the constabulary, the fifth report of the National Police Commission pointed out that a constable on beat duty has to be sensitive to many things that happen around him and has to be oriented to discharging that role.

The beat officer has to be watchful of shady characters while being helpful to the needy and the poor. His prompt and adequate response to any small development in a law and order matter should be effective in preventing further escalation of the situation. Timely action at this level prevents the need for more aggressive action by the force at a later stage. The crux of efficient policing is the effective and amiable street presence of well qualified, trained and motivated constables, it observed.

The report proposed experience-based promotions and training for the constabulary to motivate it to a meaningful and positive performance.

Beat policing is considered crucial for gathering criminal intelligence even for counter-terror initiatives. Given the kind of work beat officers are entrusted with, many lower rung personnel feel they need to be given more avenues for promotions. They argue that lack of job satisfaction coupled with strenuous working conditions lead many beat constables to indulge in malpractices including collection of protection money. “At times they may also be told to do collections from their areas,” alleged a policeman.

An SHO admitted that beat work had become so lucrative for some that when removed for other important jobs, they suddenly lose their efficiency and zeal: “You can get round-the-clock work from a constable handling a ‘wet’ beat and he would not have any qualms.”

Given the importance of the beat system both in terms of law and order maintenance and public image of the police, it is essential that it be insulated from all kinds of drawbacks. This can be achieved by giving more incentives to beat officers and more avenues for merit-based promotions. However, things have improved considerably with the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission.

To ensure that beat constables do not indulge in malpractices, volunteers from the public can be attached with them on a shift basis.

Women personnel should also be posted along with the permanent beat staff to restrict their undesirable activities. According to experts, beat-wise analysis of crime and its timing should form the basis for fixing duty shifts. The recent decision to increase beats under each police station would seem to be a step in the right direction.

Devesh K. Pandey