Community policing initiatives in Kerala

A roadshow on law and order and traffic awareness was held as part of the Global Community Policing Conclave 2010 at Kochi on November 4, 2010. Photo: H.Vibhu   | Photo Credit: H_Vibhu

Forging partnerships between police and people is a concern of all democratic governments. The improvement of policing is part of the development process itself. Indeed, there cannot be any sustained development unless peace and order are guaranteed. The efficacy of policing will be nullified unless the community is taken into confidence.

Against the backdrop of growing threats of terrorism and globalisation of crime, ensuring community participation in the maintenance of the public order and crime reduction are major challenges before all societies. Police-community partnership is needed not only to ensure economic and social development but also to achieve global peace.

A silent revolution in this partnership has taken place in 43 police station limits in Kerala over the last two-three years, in the form of a community policing project, Janamaithri Suraksha. This followed the acceptance by the government of the recommendations of the Justice K.T. Thomas Commission on Kerala Police Performance and Accountability. A series of deliberations and consultations on the draft project prepared by the police was undertaken. A political and social consensus was arrived at before the project was launched. Beat officers were chosen and professional training was imparted to them. Communities were sensitised to the project. The financial commitments were partly met from the State Plan funds.

The basic objectives are to reduce crime levels, detect crimes and forge a partnership between the police and the public in the area of security. The project centres on a beat officer who is in daily contact with the people in a locality, typically with around 1,000 houses. The officer knows the area and gains the support and trust of the people.

A nominated committee without political affiliations, comprising members representing every section of society, met frequently to discuss security-related issues and chalk out plans.

Under Janamaithri Suraksha, schemes such as combined night patrolling, traffic safety, environmental safety, blood and organ donation and legal awareness classes for women were implemented in different police station limits. The Janamaithri Suraksha Samithi decided the project to be chosen for each area.

People started participating in Samithi meetings in large numbers and discussed various local security issues (excluding cases under investigation or trial, and issues relating to criminals to be arrested). Many of the projects implemented were extremely successful, and crime reduction up to 50 per cent was achieved in the police station areas of Irinjalakuda, Perinthalmanna, Kochi and Aluva. Janamaithri Kendras have trained youngsters, and even organised football tournaments and drama competitions. A student police cadet programme was on in some schools.

Such was the degree of acceptance of the project that all MLAs wanted it implemented in their constituencies. The Irinjalakuda police station won ISO certification for the project.

In this backdrop, the government decided to extend the project to 100 more police station areas. It organised a Global Conclave on Community Policing in Kochi, with a view to learning lessons from the global community of community policing practitioners and researchers. The event was held in Kochi on November 3 and 4.

About 130 delegates from 42 countries and different Indian States, all community policing practitioners and researchers, participated. The conclave benefited practitioners from India, exposing them to global models of community policing.

David Purdy, Senior Police Adviser, Department of State, United States, spoke on the need to make community policing an organic programme that should continuously change to meet emerging challenges. It should be ensured that the process does not turn into spying for or against the police, he added.

Nicholas Parker, a management consultant from the United Kingdom, dwelt on how England, in the 1980s, witnessed a series of riots as a result of a decline in traditional community-oriented policing. Michael Berlin, Professor of Coppin State University, U.S., observed that there should be a balance between community service and law-enforcement. Comsat, or computer driven crime statistics, was an attempt to use technology to reduce crime. “An ideal strategy must involve a combination of Comsat and community policing,” he said.

Muji Diah Setiani from Indonesia talked about the community policing policy in his country, called Polmas, pursued with assistance from Japan. In Macedonia, community policing is done with the help of advisory groups comprising officers, religious leaders, educational servants, representatives of local housing sectors and politicians.

Dr. Stephen B. Perrot talked daringly about the situation in the Gambia, titling his presentation “Predatory leadership as a foil to community policing partnership.” He said the President and senior leaders did not give support for reforming the police structure. Later, during a private conversation, he mentioned to this writer that he may be arrested if he goes to the Gambia, for what he said in the conclave about the political leadership of the West African country.

Abdul Rahman Dambazau, Chief of the Army Staff (retired), Nigeria, however, said one could not generalise the West African model as the African model. What happened in the Gambia was not true of all of Africa, he said.

Nguyen Van Canh and Cao Hoang Long from the People's Police Academy, Vietnam, said community policing was part of every activity of policing in their country, where it is part of government policy.

Dunkan Chappel of Australia talked about mental patients and community policing. Arvind Varma from Indiana University ended the final session with an insightful critique of community policing. He questioned the difference between community policing and traditional policing, since the latter is also supposed to serve the community. In the absence of a fixed tenure, a police officer could not build relationships with the community, he said. He emphasised the need for a strong process of evaluation. Criticism from all quarters, including the human rights community, should be welcomed.

R.K. Raghavan, P.K. Hormis Tharakan and Abraham Kurien, all of whom have held positions at the highest levels in the Indian police structure, chaired sessions. Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation Aswini Kumar and Uttarakhand Director-General of Police Jyoti Swaroop Pandey also chaired sessions. Assam Director-General of Police Sankar Baruva discussed the ‘Aswas' project in his State. Pradeep Philip, senior Indian Police Service officer from Tamil Nadu, spoke about the Friends of Police Movement in the State. ADGP Meeran Borwanker spoke of the Mahila Dakshati Samithis in Maharashtra. The former National Investigation Agency chief, Radha Vinod Raju, spoke of the concerns of community policing in terror-prone areas, with special emphasis on Jammu and Kashmir. Harmanpreet Singh, Inspector-General of Police from West Bengal, spoke of operational challenges in community policing with special reference to Left-wing extremism. T.K. Vinod Kumar, Deputy Director, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy, Hyderabad, spoke about the role of community policing in communally sensitive situations.

Kamaljith Deol, DGP, Arunachal Pradesh, was one of those very impressed with the presentations.

A session that attracted considerable attention was the one attended by Janamaithri Suraksha Project beat officers, grass-roots level officers and community members. It was chaired by Dr. N.K. Jayakumar, Vice-Chancellor, National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS), based in Kochi.

The Kerala project could well be a model for other States. The total involvement of the police leadership under DGP Jacob Punnoose, strategies based on bottom-up planning, government support in terms of funding, and continuous evaluation let the project take wing, make social capital and strike root in Kerala.

(Dr. B. Sandhya, an Indian Police Service officer, is an Inspector-General of Police in Kerala. She is Nodal Officer for the Janamaithri Suraksha Project.)

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