Training the police

Published : Apr 27, 2002 00:00 IST

On the commendable role of, and the major tasks before, the National Police Academy in Hyderabad.

WHENEVER I visit the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy in Hyderabad, my heart leaps with joy. Each time you are on the campus - situated outside the city on the highway to Bangalore - you note several changes, changes that invariably add lustre to what has come to be the pride of Indian Police. The latest addition is the Millennium Training Complex where most of the indoor instruction takes place. The complex accommodates lecture rooms and a sleek, state-of-the-art computer centre. An extensive parade ground, an impressive riding course, a well-laid athletic track, and a reasonably well-maintained swimming pool constitute the outdoor infrastructure. The library has an incredible collection of police literature from all over the world. A dynamic librarian, Walke Prakash, is extremely proud of his possessions. He shows you around with the enthusiasm of a tour guide, which feeds both your curiosity and ego. Material produced by past and present policemen of India is displayed in a tidy corner. The collection surprises, because one never knew that so many policemen had written on policing, some with great verve and in amazing literary style. This again is gratifying. On the whole, the place has an ambience that rivals police training facilities anywhere in the world.

Here, I must compliment the Ministry of Home Affairs for its careful choice of the Director and his deputies. At least at the national level, police training bodies are no longer the dumping ground of the unwanted and disgruntled elements that are hardly the role model for those who look forward to a professional career. Director M.K. Shukla and Additional Director P.S.V. Prasad are officers with great distinction who now steward the Academy and have several ideas to make the institution a centre for excellence that meshes theory and practice.

The NPA is forward-looking and is eclectic in its approach to the task. It encourages visitors from diverse backgrounds. For all the politician-baiting by police officers, it does not shut its doors on them. There is a definite desire to listen to them and respect their ideas on policing. Civil servants, academics and personalities from the fields of science, art and the media come often to share their thoughts with the Indian Police Service probationers (who spend less than ten months at the NPA) and senior officers (who come for a few weeks as part of mid-career requirement). The NPA's international tie-ups include those with the Scarman Centre for Public Order, Leicestershire University, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York City, and the Charles Stuart University, Canberra. While John Jay will promote studies in the areas of criminal justice, forensic science and policy science, Charles Stuart will deal with the teaching of ethics and attitudinal changes.

WHENEVER I am on the captivating campus, the thought that comes up most frequently in my mind is, why is it that despite such a springboard that offers all possible incentives, IPS officers have not been able to transform the poor image of the police. Some cynics are emphatic that the NPA is just a showpiece which has not contributed even an iota to the basic need of the times, namely, to render the Indian Police more objective, efficient and people-friendly. They believe, probably rightly, that the NPA has no reason to exist unless it contributes substantially towards a qualitative improvement in the delivery of police services to the common person. While this point of view somewhat exaggerates the role normally assigned to a training institution, there is more than a grain of truth in what it seeks to convey.

Is it enough to produce IPS officers who are only knowledgeable in law, forensic science and the use of firearms? Is it not necessary that they should be trained also in how to be sensitive to the demands of the average citizen and how to respond to him or her, not merely in a lawful manner but with a human touch? These are questions that should bother trainers all over the country. No doubt, a large section of IPS officers in the field bear evidence that they had been sensitised in this area by the NPA. (Trainees visit non-governmental organisations that address themselves to the problems of the weaker sections in society, to interact with some of their members.) At the same time, there are many others who do not measure up to the basic expectations. Why is this so? Is it because of a flaw in the profile of the men and women who have joined the IPS in the past few decades? Or is there any obvious shortcoming in the content of training? I consider these as two issues that are germane to any exercise at assessing the impact of the NPA.

Two years ago the NPA itself undertook an analysis of the background of the men and women who came into the IPS during the period 1986-2000. This study brought out the surprising fact that Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, which together account for about 8 per cent of the country's population, accounted for about half the number of recruits during this 15-year period, with Bihar alone contributing 20 per cent. The performance of three southern states of Tamil Nadu (4 per cent), Karnataka (3 per cent) and Kerala (1.6 per cent) was dismal, if one reckoned the fact that until about the early 1980s, they contributed a lion's share each year. There is therefore a definite change in the geographic profile, which may not exactly be significant for our purpose here.

What is perhaps relevant and a matter of some concern is the perceptible shift away from the previous relatively young entry-level composition. Only about 18 per cent of those drawn into the service during the past 15 years were below 25 years of age. A majority (61 per cent) were in the age group of 25-28. Interestingly, 21 per cent were above 28 years. (In the current batch at the Academy, there are five who are actually 30 years old.) Another interesting phenomenon is the increasing numbers of probationers who are married at the time of entry. (Eight of the 32 trainees now in Hyderabad are married.)

It is generally believed that training programmes aimed at instilling discipline and engendering values need a responsive mind that is open to new ideas. A rigid mind-set that is impervious to value-based inputs frustrates the trainer, who does not give out his best. Older recruits are no doubt mature. Some of them have rich work experience that will stand them in good stead later on in their career. The point of dispute is, are they amenable to training that seeks specifically to impart greater discipline to the mind and body? I am inclined to respond with an emphatic 'no'. I am sure many of my colleagues share this view.

Women are expected to provide the healing touch to any profession that cares for the individual and seeks to relieve pain and misery. Obviously, the police need them as much as medicine does. In spite of all the fanfare that accompanies a Kiran Bedi or the likes of her, the IPS still remains a male-dominated group. Only about 8 per cent of the recruits during the period 1986-2000 were women. This is an anomaly that calls for some reflection. While prescribing a quota may not be legally sustainable in the case of an All India Service, the alternative would be to sell the concept of policing to young women in the universities as an attractive career option that is socially meaningful. This could help raise their numbers over a period of time. It is a task that rightly belongs to the NPA.

The educational composition of the IPS has undergone a sea change. Until about the early 1980s, a majority who came in were post-graduates in the arts and sciences. There was just a sprinkling of engineers, and possibly none at all from medicine. There has since been a transformation of sorts. Since 1986, almost a third of the recruits have been engineers, many from the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology. The arrival of so many from the engineering discipline strengthens the IPS' capacity to respond to modern technology, a requirement that hardly needs expatiation. About 15 per cent of the recruits in the decade came from the fields of medicine, law, chartered accountancy and management science. This is undeniably a welcome development that makes the IPS more broad-based.

The NPA study does not give information on the social background of the recruits. This is very relevant to understanding the manner of their approach to problems in the community after they go out into the field. I suppose the NPA has the required inputs. If it has, it should undertake a further analysis and publicise the findings for the benefit of social scientists and all of us genuinely interested in the emergence of a more humane police force in the country.

SO much for the profile of an IPS trainee. What about the curriculum of training that the NPA offers? One cannot find a more comprehensive scheme. There was once the well-founded criticism that the accent was so much on outdoor work that the basic course was more attuned to raising a constabulary than a corps of leaders who were to supervise the middle and lower levels of the force. This flaw has since been corrected. Now, out of a grand total of 2,000 marks to be awarded to a trainee at the end of the course, 1,200 are for indoor subjects and only 400 for the outdoor ones. The Director's assessment carries the remaining 400. Outdoor subjects include physical training, yoga, unarmed combat, weapons training, equitation and swimming. Classroom teaching covers law, criminology, criminal investigation, forensic science and medicine, personality development and ethical behaviour and information technology.

Of great significance is the teaching of ethics, an area where, as recent events show, the police can do with more inputs and indoctrination. The emphasis on ethical leadership and the need for ethical decision-making, both in respect of interpersonal relationships and functional areas of a police organisation, is most welcome. One may raise a cynical question whether this has had any impact at all on the personality of the probationers. I will tackle this in an entirely pragmatic manner. Even if just one of the 32 probationers now undergoing training is induced to behave correctly when he moves to the field, I will be pleased. The objective is to create islands of ethical conduct, which will inspire future generations of police officers.

Why is it that NPA training does not always get translated into professional and ethical behaviour in the field? Why do some IPS officers go astray and bring disrepute to the elite corps? Why are some so insensitive to the problems of the poor? These are questions that are difficult to answer.

One must understand that deviance is part of the human personality and some probationers have such tendencies in a pronounced manner even before they come in. There is just a chance that a psychological test at the time of selection or on arrival at the NPA will be able to identify the abnormal individual. If it does, he or she can receive some extra attention during training. As it is, we do not have a psychological test. This is a major lacuna. While I would not like to overplay the utility of such a procedure - studies done abroad are inconclusive on this - the incorporation of a test that has been imaginatively devised is worth the experiment.

Field pressures are enormous and these invariably lead to questionable behaviour on the part of the IPS officer. It is difficult for the NPA to simulate a real field situation that takes into account both threats and inducements to police officers from a wide cross-section of the polity and the community. Theoretical descriptions of the scenario do not prepare a probationer for the shocks that await him. This gulf can hardly be bridged. Correct conduct within the police calls for great strength of mind and character, which can be built only over several years in public life, if it had not already been formed in the family environment. Finding fault therefore with training methods seems unjustified.

Except in a few cases, the quantum of penalty for misconduct by an IPS officer has had only a minor deterrent effect. The standards applied to deal with such conduct also differ from officer to officer, depending on the individual's clout. Many have got away with heinous crimes because they had the right connections, while others, with slender links or none at all, have been treated rather harshly for lesser acts of deviance. The message that goes out from such discriminatory practices is that as long as you have the powers-that-be behind you, you can indulge in myriad malpractices with absolute impunity. This is a situation that breeds indiscipline and promotes corrupt practices. The scene may not be different in the case of the rest of the civil service. But the damage caused by a single misbehaving police officer outclasses what flows from the unethical behaviour of his colleagues elsewhere in government and is therefore more dangerous. Training inputs cannot stand such onslaughts on the ethical fibre of individual officers after they receive regular assignments.

The NPA's Mission Statement is laudable by any standards. The crux of the matter is, against the above backdrop, how does one bring about the attitudinal change that the Statement contemplates? This is definitely a gargantuan task for police leaders, both past and present. If, however, they themselves throw up their hands in desperation, it is only perdition that awaits the Indian Police. Do we need an Association for the Regeneration of Police comprising past officers who will stand by those serving officers, albeit small in numbers, who display courage and a trust in ethics, not only for its own sake, but also for their self-realisation?

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