Doyen of community policing

Published : Feb 27, 2004 00:00 IST

Prof. David Bayley - N. BALAJI

Prof. David Bayley - N. BALAJI

On David Bayley, a scholar nonpareil to the aid of policing.

LOOKING back on my long career with the Indian police I can recall many moments of tension and frustration. It sometimes amazes me how I coped with them and retained my sanity! Those were no doubt painful and eminently forgettable. Talking about them in the evening of my life will be preposterous. I would rather recall the brighter patches that relieved the rigours of a calling that is becoming harder and harder as each day passes. I strongly believe that it will be gross distortion if I do not place on record the many moments of joy and satisfaction that dotted my innings.

The opportunity that the Indian Police Service offered to alleviate the pain and misery of those to whom injustice had been done was enormous. It earned me the goodwill of many from among what is sometimes crudely described as the lower strata of society. What was almost equally gratifying was the privilege that the position gave me to interact with scholars the world over in public administration, especially the police. I can count several of them. The interaction that has had the most profound impact on my outlook and perceptions of policing is undeniably the one I had with David Bayley of the State University of New York (SUNY), Albany.

It was nearly a quarter century ago that I had a fortuitous meeting with him when I was with the Tamil Nadu Police. David - he resents being addressed Prof. Bayley - was in Chennai on one of his routine lecture tours. From out of the blue, I had a call from the Director-General of Police assigning me the simple task of bringing David to the Police Headquarters for a discussion and then take him back to his hotel. Little did I realise that such a brief and perfunctory protocol assignment would bring me an inestimable reward in the form of a life-long friendship that has blossomed over the more than two decades we have known each other.

David is an unusual scholar. He shuns publicity and adulation. Unlike some of his tribe, he is not opinionated, although he has firm views on most of the intricate issues of policing. He does not flaunt his M.A. from Oxford or his Ph.D from Princeton. These enviable accomplishments hardly surface or figure in his conversation. One can, however, easily discern more than traces of the civilising influence of those two hallowed institutions in the geniality that he exudes and the gentle manner of speaking with which he bowls you over. The brilliant mind that is so obvious was possibly honed at the two great centres of learning. The sum total of all these is a personality beyond compare, one that is amiable and friendly, ever willing to share knowledge and experience. I should recall here, although only in passing, what another noted scholar friend of mine, Jack Greene (for whom I worked in Philadelphia in the early 1990s) once told me. The knowledge you acquire over a course of time in your career is meant to be shared with any one who needs it. It should never be allowed to be buried along with you when you eventually depart. David represents this school to which sharing comes naturally without the slightest attempt at contriving.

David first came to India in the mid-1960s as an American Institute of Indian Studies scholar. He travelled extensively and met a lot of people including policemen at various levels. The visit culminated in a book, Police and Political Development in India (Princeton University Press, 1969) which, to this day, is hailed as a seminal work that comes our way only once in a while. I have not read a more analytical treatise on the Indian police. David does not pull any punches here and describes vividly the politician-policeman nexus that remains the bane of our system. He does not also ignore the brutality and corruption that have characterised our policing ever since the British devised it in the second half of the 19th century. David buttresses all that he says, not on thin air, but on solid findings of surveys that he initiated during this visit. It is sadly true that whatever he said 40 years ago still holds good. When I ask him as to why he cannot update his book, he quips saying that it is I who should take up that task. I wish I had half the skills that he possesses in such abundance in order to undertake this highly desirable and useful project! In this context, he highlights the contrast between the scenarios in the U.S. and in India. What is most distinctive about the U.S. is the coming into being of criminal justice schools and departments in most of the universities from where some outstanding work on the police has emerged. This is singularly absent in India. We have just a few universities that have what passes off as criminology departments. The talent that is attracted here is just modest. This explains why we have not produced scholars of the calibre of David.

DAVID is looked upon by policemen all over the world as almost the Guru of community policing. The two books that he authored along with Jerome K. Skolnick are a fund of information on the subject. The New Blue Line: Police Innovation in six American cities (The Free Press, 1986) and Community Policing: Issues and Practices around the World (Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice,1988) provide a meaningful insight into the problems associated with fusing the concept into hard field realities. David does not do a hardsell of community policing. He is quite alive to the fact that community policing means different things to different people, and hence any rigid universal prescription might not work. He would like more and more innovations to come out of local genius. Here, as well as in respect of other areas of policing, he avoids shibboleths. I have heard him refer frequently to "smart policing" that avoids the beaten track but keeps the objective of community satisfaction in right focus.

In a recent conversation, I quizzed David on what he would consider the basics of "smart policing". In his view, in several countries, including India, it is police structures that have received greater attention than the content of policing. This is a lopsided approach. We must first be clear on our objectives, and later on try to adapt the structure to such objectives. In effect, this would mean putting police organisations in the learning mode so as to continually adapt them to policing needs. In David's opinion, rigid structures are archaic and the police should follow the private sector example of evolving flexible managerial styles oriented to goals rather than structures.

Since visiting India in the 1960s, David has trotted the globe several times and has also come back to India frequently. His enquiries have taken him far and wide. Outside India, he came to notice early for his outstanding work on the Japanese police. Forces of Order: Policing Modern Japan (University of California Press, 1991) is a delightful description of how the Japanese have organised their police. The influence of the Japanese ethos comes out very well here and this is something that should have aroused our curiosity a long time ago. Crime in that country is low, possibly because of the high standards of living that the state is able to offer to a large majority of its citizens. Even more relevant is the culture of politeness and a willing submission to law and authority. What is unique to the Japanese police is the emphasis on the service element of policing. The ubiquitous koban or the mini-police station that one sees in all parts of that country is the quintessence of community policing, as we understand it today. Its presence may be symbolic but the message that a koban conveys gives an unbelievable level of comfort and assurance of security to the average citizen. (Incidentally, the koban is an exportable model that has been successfully tried out in Singapore.) It has left an indelible impression on David and explains his abiding interest in community policing experiments wherever they come from.

POLICE reform is a cause that is close to David's heart. On this, he has been consulted by the United Nations as well as individual governments. He is currently on the International Oversight Commission for the reform of police in Northern Ireland. More important, two grants from the National Institute of Justice and the Macarthur Foundation have enabled him to explore and suggest how the U.S. could fund other countries for building effective and democratic police forces. Whenever David and I meet, our conversation tends naturally to veer around police reforms in India. Incidentally, he was consulted by our National Police Commission (1977) before it formulated its path-breaking recommendations.

David concedes that the current travails of the Indian police do warrant action. He endorses what the NPC had said in its eight reports, but is amused whenever someone asks him for a ready formula to uplift the sagging image of the Indian police. He has neither the locus standi nor a magic wand that will do the trick. In his opinion, India has lots of talent within the IPS itself to evolve mechanisms that will facilitate changes in a democratic manner. At the same time, he reminds us that India is only going through what the U.S. experienced in the last years of the 19th century and until the 1920s when a group of progressives led by Ted Roosevelt (who was later to become the country's President) came together and launched a movement that paved the way for sweeping reforms. Do we have such a group in India? Many former police chiefs in the country have laboured in this direction. Actually, a public interest petition filed by a former Director-General of the Border Security Force urging the implementation of NPC recommendations is hanging fire in the Supreme Court. Its outcome is eagerly awaited. The lack of a political will that is so pronounced in the country has, however, demoralised most of us.

David watches with interest the enlarging privatisation of police work in most parts of the world. He looks upon this as an inevitable development in the context of governments finding it difficult to finance accretions so badly needed for combating crime and disorder in many urban agglomerations. The trend is prominent in the U.S. where the number of private securitymen is almost four times that of the government police. Interestingly, individual public police personnel in the U.S. are permitted to work for private establishments during their time off. Similarly, private securitymen are drawn by the regular police in certain contingencies that demand extra manpower. This complementarity is something that we should take note of. We in India have also witnessed proliferation of private security agencies. We need to exploit this huge reservoir of resources to fight crime. At present, the standards of these private security personnel are abysmally low. There needs to be a government initiative to standardise their training. Possibly, this exercise belongs rightly to the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), an organisation that has grown enormously in the recent past and has also been offering a variety of consultancy services. Its performance, especially at airports, has been commendable, indicating that it has the expertise and flexibility to take up new assignments.

Most significant is David's perception that policing standards are getting more and more internationalised under the aegis of the U.N. The growth of peace-keeping forces drawn from several countries is a trend that is unlikely to diminish. The growing demands of counter-terrorism are another phenomenon that is likely to see a greater exchange of ideas and assistance to national forces that are lagging behind in infrastructure. Anti-money laundering exercises will also see further standardisation of law enforcement. In this context, David bemoans the fact that the U.S. has chosen to stay away from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Equally lamentable in his view is the failure of his country to use civilian police that could have been easily assembled by the U.N. to follow the coalition forces that went into Iraq. This was a failure that cost the U.S. dearly in terms of lives lost.

David rightly believes that pressures on police will keep mounting. How well policemen are equipped to meet challenges is a matter of debate. One of his recent works, Police for the Future (Oxford University Press, 1994), examines this and several other issues that are bound to have a bearing on police performance. The community should have a large say in deciding what kind of police they need. They will no doubt be impressed by the numbers of policemen put on the field.

Unfortunately, they will also judge a police mainly on their speed of response to distress calls, although there is much more to determining the efficiency of a police force. This is definitely not "smart policing". It is the police responsibility to educate the community that their assessment of police work will have to focus on end results rather than the mechanics of delivery of service. David may be saying the obvious. But his is a credible voice that we can ignore only at our peril.

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