Managing a modern police force

Published : Sep 12, 2003 00:00 IST

Instruction in ethics at the training stage, supplemented by periodic lectures and workshops, will go a long way in improving the internal management and the public image of the police force.

POLICEMEN the world over are rightly assessed on how they act in the streets and, not unjustifiably, it is the higher echelons in the department who are held accountable for their performance and conduct. Unfortunately, however, very little thought is bestowed by external observers, who constantly blame top police officers for their many failures, on the intricacies and dynamics of day-to-day police administration. Only a few critics of the police system can claim an insight into the complex problems that confront the senior police leadership in managing their personnel. Outsiders in India hardly get to know of the daily battle each Director-General of Police (DGP) or District Superintendent of Police has to wage to keep his men in fine fettle. My objective is to let the public understand some basic issues of police internal management in the hope that the police, especially the top leadership, will receive greater understanding and sympathy from the consumers of their service.

Unlike in many other parts of the world, Indian forces are becoming larger and larger. For instance, when I started my career, the Tamil Nadu Police had just about 30,000 men. If my information is correct, there are now more than 100,000 personnel in the State. Some other forces in India are even larger. Managing such huge organisations is a difficult task, especially from the point of ensuring high morale and good employee behaviour. The constabulary who constitute more than 80 per cent of each force are the cutting edge of policing, and they could make or mar the image of a force. The misconduct of an individual policeman or a small group sullies the image of the whole force. Two or three incidents occurring in quick succession spell doom for a DGP or the government itself.

I have always favoured a moderately-sized force that gets a continual upgradation of its tools rather than more numbers of personnel. But many young officers tell me, and convincingly too, that this is impractical in the present times because the demands of law and order and VIP security are so enormous and so number-oriented that a DGP or a Commissioner of Police could hardly do with less men. This perception will persist as long as the concept of policing remains manpower-oriented. For instance, policemen lining the route traversed by a VIP is an amusing spectacle to anyone who has seen security drill elsewhere in the world.

However, this exercise which causes a huge dent on existing manpower cannot be given up in India because of the unpredictable hazards that lurk at every street corner, posing a danger even to the ordinary citizen, not to speak of a VIP. Smaller and sleeker police forces are, therefore, likely to be a pipe dream in India for decades to come. When this is the case, what is the means by which one ensures that the force gets all the manpower it needs and also remains in full strength?

At any point of time, in a medium-size force, there are hundreds of vacancies, caused by retirements, deaths, dismissals and suspensions. This leads to acute problems in day-to-day deployments for a variety of chores. It also denies considerable resources to police stations, leading to acute public dissatisfaction. Gone are the days when a Superintendent of Police could fill up vacancies almost every month from out of waiting lists of qualified candidates, using his own recruiting mechanism. The process has now been centralised in most of the States. This system has definitely resulted in desirable uniformity and an upgradation of standards. But it has, at the same time, introduced a lot of uncertainties. Apart from the considerable delay in filling in vacancies, in some States, it has thrown up opportunities for politicisation of the recruitment exercise and large-scale infiltration of the ruling party's favourites. This is an undesirable consequence that has played havoc and diluted the quality of entrants.

Another unintended development is the coming into being of an exclusive agency outside the State police for carrying out the recruitment. This agency reports to the Home Secretary and the State DGP has no control whatsoever over it. Such bodies no doubt bring a measure of expertise and focus that is most welcome. What is inherent, however, is the chasm that develops between two wings of the police, and this does not contribute to either speed or cohesion. The ideal arrangement would be to entrust responsibility for recruitment to the State DGP himself. He could head the new special agency in addition to his policing chores.

More than this, an irritant is that State governments take their own time to decide when to conduct recruitment. In several States, for years, no enlistment takes place because of sheer bureaucratic indecision that is often driven by crass politics. As a result, there are unscheduled bursts of recruitment leading to manpower bulges, which are not conducive to career planning.

If at any point of time the government suddenly chooses to induct 1,000 Sub-Inspectors, how would you find an equal number of vacancies in the next rank of Inspectors for promoting these 1,000 men when their turn for elevation comes? The outcome is frustration and lack of motivation. DGPs have only a small say with regard to the timing of the recruitment.

Much more irksome is the excessive concentration of financial authority in the State Home Department. This greatly curtails the style of the DGP and frustrates his plans to give his force more operational facilities. In the first place, when a DGP sends his budget proposals for a fiscal year, he invariably gets only much less than what he had asked for. This is understandable in a regime of economy and austerity. What is ridiculous, however, is that even after funds are allotted to the DGP, he will have to seek the Home Department's approval for many items of expenditure even if they could be accommodated within the money placed at the disposal of the police department. This scheme of things is illogical, and it reflects only a desire to keep the DGP permanently in a subordinate position. Thanks to the dynamism displayed by many Chief Ministers - Tamil Nadu is prominent among them - and the personal equation struck by many DGPs with them, the discretion enjoyed earlier by the Home Department has lately diminished to an extent. Many Home Secretaries have not taken kindly to this.

Equally unprofessional is the tendency of many Home Departments to erode systematically the authority of DGPs in the matter of placement of officers. Some State governments have gone to the extent of appropriating the power even to assign postings to Inspectors of Police. The intentions behind depriving the DGP of the authority in such routine administrative matters are not always honourable. Besides conveying to the DGP the message that he is subordinate to the Home Department, the objective is to make lower level police officers look up to sources other than the DGP for support in a crisis. The damage done to the status of the DGP is incalculable.

In this situation, his ability to direct the energies of his force to maintain law and order and control crime is definitely diluted. In many instances of placement of IPS officers, DGPs are ignored and they get to know of government decisions only through the press. In this ambience it is not surprising that some police officers of lower ranks enjoy more clout than the DGP himself.

In its Third Report (1979) the National Police Commission rightly said: "Interference with the police system by extraneous sources, especially the politicians, encourages the police personnel to believe that their career advancement does not at all depend on the merits of their professional performance, but can be secured by currying favours with politicians who count... .This process sets the system on the downward slope to decay and total ineffectiveness."

As a natural corollary to the above unedifying administrative practice, in live operational matters, many district police officials in some States establish a direct line to the Home Department or the Minister in charge of it, thereby circumventing the DGP and other supervisory officials. This deplorable situation permits the passing down of irregular instructions directly to field policemen bypassing the DGP and often with a view to promoting partisan interests.

Under such circumstances, the DGP remains totally oblivious to happenings in the field, or becomes captive to actions that had already been taken in deference to directions from the Minister concerned. This is hardly conducive to professional or ethical policing. If a course of action initiated under such circumstances without the knowledge or concurrence of the DGP goes awry and triggers a major controversy, it is the DGP who has to bear the cross.

Till a few decades ago, the constabulary was ranked among the least literate of government staff. The situation has changed beyond belief. A college degree is no longer a novelty, and there are now constables with post-graduate degrees as well. This is an encouraging development. But it has brought in problems of personnel management. Unquestioning obedience of the past from constables has given way to resistance to even lawful directions from supervisors, and this has adversely affected internal discipline.

This new scene has somewhat reduced police operational ability to act swiftly and decisively in some regions such as Kerala where literacy is very high. The DGP and his deputies have had to adopt a new management style that is sensitive to the expectations of a literate constabulary. Where they have been callous to this trend, problems of discipline have become most pronounced.

CORRUPTION and wilful violations of human rights are two other ills that afflict many modern police forces. They pose major challenges to the police leadership. How well these are handled will again depend upon the top management's own values. If they themselves are not known for their integrity - we have had several distressing instances of corruption at the IPS level - or for their respect for individual rights, there is certainty of a host of management problems. This is why enlightened police officers - there are still a substantial number around - highlight the need for indoctrinating new generations of policemen on the virtues of ethics.

My good friend in the U.K. Police, Peter Neyroud who heads the Thames Valley Police, the third largest in the country, has, along with Alan Beckley, written a book on this. (Policing Ethics and Human Rights, Willan Publishing, Devon. 2001).

The two authors refer in their chapter on `Human Resource Solutions' to research findings that establish education as one criterion for recruitment that offers hope of a greater adherence to honesty and respect for human rights. There is, therefore, a definite case for insisting on a college degree at the entry level. This is notwithstanding the fact that an educated constable is more likely to question management decisions and ask several questions that his less educated predecessor may not even have thought of.

Neyroud and Beckley also plead for training in ethics right through the career of a policeman whatever be his level in the hierarchy. This is something that should make police leaders sit up and introspect. Instruction in ethics at police training institutions is no doubt welcome. But it should not stop there. Sustaining it thereafter through periodic lectures and workshops is a key element of police management that has not received the attention it deserves. In my view this explains the poor image of many of our forces, and why a number of the otherwise significant professional achievements by policemen against innumerable odds have not evoked the much-deserved popular acclaim.

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