A case for police reform

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:40 pm IST

Published - December 23, 2012 12:39 am IST

In a city where almost everyone feels unsafe, as much from miscreants as from the police, wall-to-wall media coverage of the brutal gang rape in a bus has obliged the men in uniform to give an account of what has been done to improve women’s safety.

Defending the general performance of his force, the Commissioner explained that they have been collaborating with women NGOs to inculcate gender sensitivity in the rank and file. To improve policing in general, he said the Union Territory had taken steps to obey the Supreme Court and had set up a police complaints authority, a Security Commission and separated the law and order and investigation wings.

All true. Yet, also not so true. It is only recently, six years after the judgement in the Prakash Singh case that Delhi has taken baby steps and they are by no means in the right direction. The police complaints authority — a body that would look at serious complaints against the police, is currently functioning out of the overburdened Delhi Public Grievances Commission. The Security Commission has met once since it was set up. Headed by the Lt. Governor and with the Delhi Chief Minister as a member, the commission meets quarterly to review the law and order and security situation in the capital.

A new draft Delhi Police bill intended to reform policing lies in the LG’s office for over two years. The Bill removes the safeguards of independence and accountability explicitly drawn up by the Supreme Court. It gives new powers to the police but lowers accountability standards. Reform, however, doesn’t need new laws or more powers. What it needs is a fundamentally new way for the Police to think about itself.

The Supreme Court judgement provided this opportunity. It set up a whole new scheme of operational responsibility and accountability. Within the court’s schema the Security Commission was meant to draw up a strategic policing plan for a five year period, identifying key priorities and objectives, and chalking out an action plan. These strategic plans were to be prepared after receiving inputs for each district from the district police chief who in turn would formulate them after consultation with the community. These plans were to be submitted to the legislature and made available in the public domain for wider consultations with civil society.

The policy role for Security Commissions is crucial for government to effectively monitor performance.

If the Commission in Delhi had taken its role seriously, probably there would have been a vision of policing that would have been widely discussed. Objective criteria to measure police performance would have been available. Instead, the Commission has met just once and the proceedings on public safety are kept confidential. In the absence of a holistic vision, patchwork solutions find their way into the system in the form of ad hoc gender sensitisation or poorly developed standard operating procedures.

Everyone knows what is wrong with policing. Everyone knows the cure. Some of the cure was given importance due to the Court’s judgement. The creation of Security Commissions was perhaps the keystone of that remedy. But instead of a welcome, it has encountered only defiance, resistance and distortion. If our streets are to be safe for women, change in the police system is a priority.

(Maja Daruwala is director and Navaz Kotwal is coordinator, Police Reforms Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative)

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