A pioneering effort

Print edition : April 22, 2005

The scheme has helped bring people closer to the men and women in `khaki'. - NARINDER NANU

The Punjab Police's community policing scheme wins popular approval and draws international attention.

IN its recent report, "Resuming Punjab's Prosperity: The Opportunities and Challenges", the World Bank has taken note of a unique experiment of the Punjab government to institutionalise ad hoc schemes meant to enhance community involvement in regular policing activity. The report records: "Punjab has pioneered what is probably India's finest effort to improve relations between the police and local communities. In collaboration with the Ford Foundation, the Vera Institute of Justice and the Institute for Development and Communication (IDC), the government has opened Community Police Resource Centres (CPRCs) in most of the State's districts."

The CPRCs provide a range of services to citizens in a congenial atmosphere. Besides facilitating grievance redress to deal with common complaints such as problems in accessibility of police officers at the lower levels, they act as nodal centres for community-oriented schemes for combating domestic violence, helping the aged, providing legal aid and arranging meetings of residents welfare associations with traffic regulation committees and economic offences wings. Also taken up are drug de-addiction campaigns and counselling for women. The CPRCs act as community service-cum-information centres to provide "no objection certificates" for arms licences, to help with verification for the issue of passports, grant permission for religious and political processions, and to use loudspeakers for social functions, and to deal with requests for security arrangements.

Considering the CPRC's role as "victim relief centres", their personnel have been trained to focus on the rights, requirements and expectations of victims of crimes. They have been trained to improve police response to victims of sexual and other violent crimes, specially trained women officers helping avoid insensitive questioning. Community group volunteers and retired civil officers have been engaged in running different helplines.

Apart from being a helpline, the children protection unit in each CPRC provides a library equipped with books of fiction and information on the work of the police, and creates awareness about the rights of children, women and other citizens through posters and pamphlets. For the first time, a protection kit against child sexual abuse has been made available at the CPRCs.

To Punjab goes the credit for being the first State to allocate budgetary resources to implement such programmes. The need to modify the policing system in the post-terrorism situation, when the community was seen alienated from the men and women in `khaki', was the primary reason behind the State's decision to opt for community policing schemes. It was also necessary to improve the relevance of the vast infrastructure created to deal with terrorism. Apart from the 17 revenue districts, six separate police districts carved out during the times of terrorism continue to function through 259 police stations and 110 police posts. It was feared that the force, whose numbers grew from nearly 29,000 in 1980 to more than 71,000 in 2001, would remain under-utilised in the post-terrorism phase.

Former Punjab Police chief A.A. Siddiqui, who was closely associated with the programme, described it as an attempt to shift from just "policing the community or policing for the community" to "policing along with the community". The need was felt as it was noticed that various pro-people steps initiated by police officers withered away once they were transferred. The officers who replaced them, especially district police chiefs, would either rename the schemes or launch new ones to prove that their respective initiatives were unique in content, approach and reach.

While an elaborate State-level steering committee is in place, at the district level an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police is in charge of the total functioning of the respective CPRCs, which, in turn, would be headed by a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP). The district police chief is the convener and a public representative is the co-convener of the district committee, whose strength is not to exceed 25. It includes four official members - the DSP and the government officials in charge of district health, education, women and child welfare. At least four women members are to be nominated by the State steering committee to each district committee.

Explaining the organisation of the CPRCs, the Director of the Chandigarh-based IDC, Pramod Kumar, who has been associated with planning and evaluating the programme, says that the criteria for membership at each of the tiers included the representation of diverse elements of society reflecting gender; social, economic and occupational factors; and rural-urban configuration. He said that each CPRC was an autonomous society collectively managed through a partnership between the community and the police.

The Director of the Punjab Police Academy (PPA) at Phillaur was assigned the task of organising special courses to train police personnel selected to run the CPRCs. While each CPRC was allocated Rs.10 lakhs from the police modernisation fund, the recurring expenditure is met from the police budget. The CRPCs are registered under the Societies Act to entitle them to receive grants directly for welfare schemes, which have been divided into "backbone" and "local area specific" categories.

If the interest shown by the governments of Madhya Pradesh and Uttaranchal to replicate the model is any indicator, the experiment appears to be quite successful. The scheme has drawn international attention too. Led by officials from the New York-based Vera Institute of Justice, experts from Russia, South Africa, Chile, Brazil, Kenya and Nigeria have interacted with the officers engaged in implementing the programme.

The Vera Institute has been observing the progress of the initiative to explore the feasibility of replicating it in other parts of the world. During a visit to Punjab, Vera Institute director Chris Stone said that if the programme progressed satisfactorily, it could be replicated in the other conflict zones and high-crime areas of the world. After visiting the CPRCs at Kapurthala and Barnala, he said that he we was surprised by the "extremely polite cops" he met.

Sanjiv Gupta, the Inspector-General of Police who heads the Community Affairs Division of the Punjab Police, said that the State planned to set up CPRCs at the police station level. This initiative is expected to have the maximum impact as it will improve the response of police personnel dealing with victims of sexual and other violent crimes.

While CPRCs have been set up at most district headquarters, the ones at Patiala, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur and Bhatinda have received the highest appreciation. The Kapurthala CPRC self-appraisal revealed some important trends. In the six months before setting up of the CPRC, the "crime against women" cell disposed of 109 of the 145 complaints it received. It took 37 days on average to decide each complaint. With the setting up of the CPRC, 359 out of the 429 complaints received were disposed of, each taking an average of 19 days. In all, 3,049 public complaints were received after the setting up of the centre as compared to 2,825 prior to it.

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