Building Mutual Trust Is Crucial

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Pravin Dixit, Former DGP, Maharashtra

Police have to redefine their role and convey grievances of citizens to appropriate authorities. Many of these grievances have the potential of magnifying into serious law and order situations hence it is imperative that police intervenes and sorts these grievances on time. In an interview with Jyoti Pathak, Pravin Dixit-former DGP (Maharashtra) elaborates on the need to improve the image of police. An excerpt.

The importance of a good rapport between the public and police is a much discussed issue today. How do you perceive this scenario?

After independence India has adopted democratic way of governance and it is the largest functioning democracy in the world today. Democratic aspirations of people find ways through their representatives at all levels including at Local Self Government, District, State and National. Representatives of the people play crucial role in the decision making process. Democratic decisions are based on contributions made by different stake holders. These include elected representatives, members of the civil society, N.G.Os, research organizations, and well meaning citizens. Many of these approach police for assistance, or suggestions on a day to day basis. Suggestions made by them to improve police functioning should be taken in a positive spirit and not considered as an interference. However, a section of such persons go beyond making suggestions and insist on a particular way of implementation or interpretation. While working on these suggestions, public officers and particularly police officers should be guided by the time tested tenet that each of their action is open to judicial scrutiny and they would be called upon to justify, whether it was in public good.

In addition, ordinary common man also approaches police whenever he feels injustice is done to him. At times a person feels frustrated as he may have exhausted all available avenues of justice from respective government agencies. In such circumstances, the common man feels reassured on visiting the police station and expects assistance from police, since police are visible symbols of the state authority.

In this context, police have to redefine their role as vehicles to convey these grievances to appropriate authorities. Many of these grievances have the potential of magnifying into serious law and order situations and therefore it is imperative that police consider them selves as state agents of providing assistance on behalf of the Government in sorting out these grievances. Acute water shortage or bursting of water pipelines due to encroachment can be cited as one such issue. On Mumbai Nasik highway near Igatpuri, villagers used to travel on highway against the traffic direction, as they had no other way. I wrote to National Highway Authorities to provide them alternative path. In urban areas many deserted buildings and compounds are being used by drug peddlers or anti social elements to commit atrocities against women. Many of these problems might be certainly beyond the scope of normal police functioning. In such situations, the police would be benefitted if they can communicate these grievances to the appropriate Government authority for doing the needful and follow it up. If it is strictly legal issue, the police certainly have to respond as per the role provided to them in the criminal justice system. It is not necessary that for every problem the police have to provide a solution. But a friendly and compassionate disposition certainly provides an opening towards building positive image about the police.

Building mutual trust and confidence between the police and the public is very crucial as the dynamics of crimes is changing very fast. In view of limited numbers of policemen, senior police officers have to depend upon the masses for everything they do, including collection of information about criminals, detection of crime and prevention of the same. The role of the police in a democratic country has to be fundamentally different from what it was during British regime. In the democratic fabric, instead of looking at everybody with suspicion, police need to encourage common man to volunteer information as well as assistance in discharge of their duties.

Police training inter alia should emphasize on inculcating ‘profiling skills’ in the policemen to discern and distinguish between members of the public who might be having suspicious intentions. If a person is suspected indulging in terrorist activities in a particular location, local people residing around him are most suitable to keep him under observation. A common man will be able to do so, provided he is reassured that his suggestions are valued by police. Today, there is a flood of information to police about various happenings. It is imperative that before acting on these leads, policemen verify authenticity and intention of persons providing the information.

The behavior of the police, therefore, has to be courteous towards the public including the representatives of the people, members of the civil society, NGOs as well as the common man and most importantly complainants. They should be particularly careful towards vulnerable sections of the society including mentally and physically challenged persons, elderly citizens, women and children, members of minority groups and persons belonging to SC and ST. Conscious efforts made to realize above stated goals would enable police to reduce trust deficit in good governance and strengthen Indian democracy. My experience in Maharashtra, as well as at Leh/Ladakh confirms this proposition.

What are the efforts being made by the police force to achieve a good public police rapport and inculcate this outlook among the police force?

In order to improve police-public rapport sincere efforts are being made right from recruitment at all levels from constables to IPS officers. Special workshops are being organized to develop soft skills particularly on communication. It is necessary that continuous workshops are organized to refresh these skills from time to time.

Efforts are also being made to institutionalize these activities. “Mahatma Gandhi Tanta Mukti Yojana” was one such scheme, through which minor disputes are resolved before a committee of villagers. At police stations and district headquarters, there are Mahila Panchayats, a body in which 10-12 respected local ladies belonging to NGOs, civil activists, lawyers, doctors are members. They look into family disputes as well as other issues to promote rights of women.

In urban areas, Zopadpatti Panchayat is functioning at several police stations. Urban areas with large slums are emerging as the centre of criminal activities. These issues are amicably resolved in meetings of these Panchayats. Police officers are taking initiative in formulating these Panchayats by soliciting active involvement of local respectable elderly citizens. City dwellers generally live in housing societies. Police station officers are in touch with office bearers of these housing societies to seek details of house maids, drivers and helpers for verification. Similarly, constant contact with different associations, merchants, chambers of commerce and other organized persons in the jurisdiction helps in nipping the problems in the bud.

Since 2016, police stations have successfully implemented the scheme of Police Mitra (Friends of Police). More than three lakh people from all religions, gender, and age group are actively associated with police and contributing to make their areas safe. During my tenure as DGP of the State and as Commissioner of Police at Nagpur city, I found that these police friends played crucial role in bridging the gap between police and the people in almost all areas. Volunteers not only came forward to work as witnesses, but they actively helped police to nab absconding criminals and also prevent many heinous offences from time to time. They made immense contribution in promoting peace and maintaining law and order. Significantly, no instance came to light where any of these police friends had taken undue advantage of their friendship with police. The entire exercise was executed without spending a single rupee from the exchequer. Activities by local police such as organizing sports tournaments, promoting cross-cultural activities or felicitating students for their excellence in studies or sports helps significantly in creating social harmony among diverse sections of the society.

It is imperative that policemen, particularly senior police officers have abiding faith in community participation and appreciate that today’s societal problems cannot be resolved only by Government officers and certainly not through police efforts alone. Initiatives mentioned above need to be pursued vigorously and consistently throughout the state. Ordinary citizens should be rewarded from time to time and kept on the regular role of the police stations and requested to participate in the police job on as many days as possible and at least once in a week. Launching of ‘police mitra Maharashtra app’ by the Chief Minister of Maharashtra has harnessed modern technology and human efforts significantly. As a result, lakhs of citizens including elderly persons, women, civil activists, young boys and girls are proudly coming forward to maintain national security. It also inculcates a sense of national pride among them and helps them to remain away from wrong influences.

Easy accessibility of police to public plays a very important role in efficient policing. What are the measures being taken to achieve this?

Communication gap can be an important reason for serious conflicts in personal as well as public life. Many situations could have been averted if rumors were countered in time. Few years ago, at Jaitapur in Ratnagiri district, where nuclear power plant is being proposed, a rumor by vested interests that police had opened fire on fishermen travelling by boats in the nearby sea led to ugly situation and had to be contained by using force. In an another recent instance, due to the rumor about collapse of the bridge, stampede resulted on Elphinston railway platform bridge in Mumbai, killing twenty three persons.

To change this scenario, it is necessary that police take maximum advantage of the revolution in information communication technology. Several police units have launched their website, twitter handle, and help lines; ‘Face book’ accounts, Whatsapp numbers as well as apps for the information of the public about steps being taken and precautions required from the public against cyber crime, economic offences, property offences and crimes against women.

Through these interactive digital portals, persons who want to remain anonymous or intend to send information to the police without their identity getting disclosed are protected. There have been several instances where college going girls sent important information about eve teasing. It was promptly followed up and stern action was taken. It is a common knowledge that many ladies are victims of receiving indecent messages on phone. If the aggrieved persons, however, communicate the details immediately to police cyber helpline; successful action can be taken against the culprits and ugly situations can be averted on time.

The State Government has also launched an e-complaint module to facilitate lodging of complaints without any hassle and the same may be used more frequently. It is imperative that using this through app needs to be made simple for the common man to follow it in his language.

The best method, however, is to make public your mobile phone number and appeal people to communicate to you as and when required. As CP, I announced my mobile number to the public in all public meetings and also provided it through electronic media. To my surprise, there was hardly any instance when the members of the public misused this facility. On the other hand, people not only responded enthusiastically but also provided valuable information from time to time. In an instance, when there was an accident, a local person immediately suggested alternate route to overcome the traffic jams. Once, during my visit to an orphanage, a young girl showed me my mobile number which she had preserved very carefully and told me proudly, she feels very safe by having that number close to her heart.

Police officers have been provided the unique facility of wireless sets. They should take full advantage of this facility not only to keep them self updated about minute to minute developments which can hardly be conveyed over mobile or telephone. This is perhaps the cheapest and most reliable method of interacting with your staff at any time of the day. Moreover, it eliminates the gap between various ranks and you can convey your ideas to the officer on the spot at the shortest time.

Police officers at all levels should constantly appear on various radio stations as well as electronic & print media and participate in live programmes so that they are able to inform the public about various instances and apprise them about the precautions. Every single forum including school, college get together, prize distribution ceremonies, meeting of senior citizens or ladies, and religious congregations should be utilized optimally to communicate ideas about how to promote safety of the people. This is a sure way to counter malicious campaign, if any, against police and project positive image about police achievements.

Some complainants like to meet the police officers personally. It is necessary that police officers provide easy access to one and all otherwise touts take advantage of the situation. To overcome this problem, I used to leave my cabin and be in the visitors’ room itself. I found the common man was extremely happy with this practice that did not require spending even a penny. Many people write letters or emails to police officers. It is necessary that every such letter and email is scrupulously accounted for and acted upon promptly.

On several occasions, I ordered registration of offences after enquiries conducted on the basis of these letters and emails. Some of these provide valuable clues about the offenders. It is therefore necessary that senior officers make it a habit of reading these communications from public personally. With the advent of new smart phones, it is advisable to synchronize your official email son the same so that you can access these from any place at your convenience. Many people call senior officers. Even though, it may not be possible to attend each and everyone immediately, efforts should be made to respond to these calls as and when possible to create trust in police officers.

Thus, police officers need to take full advantage of the information communication technology revolution. There is great inertia among a section of police officers to adapt to these changes. But the result of the same is catastrophic. By adapting to change, police officers can become smart in the true sense, if they remain abreast with new technology.

How well prepared are we prepared to counter the threat of terrorism?

There are several facets of terrorism, which need to be understood. Terrorism is a worldwide phenomenon the reasons for the same may be external or internal as well as a combination of both. The prime cause of terrorist activities is the perception of injustice among a section of the population. When this group perceives that there is consistent denial of a reasonable opportunity to them to rectify the injustice meted out to them, they prefer to resort to violent means and publicize their cause. The idea behind such attacks is to cause maximum damage to soft targets, since the security around vital places is usually taken care of. Secondly, whenever there is complacency, the terrorists strike. Terrorism knows no religious feelings and people of any religion can be fall victim to it.

Therefore, response to terrorist activities also has to be considered accordingly. We must combat terrorist thoughts through effective response that could be intellectual, legal or financial. Balanced religious thinkers need to be encouraged to speak out their views publicly, lest the fanatics would rule the roost. At the same time, rabid elements need to be booked promptly under stringent laws. Of late, terrorists particularly be longing to radical Muslim groups including IS, Al Qaida and such others have forcefully launched propaganda through social media platforms.

Spreading distorted videos, one sided versions, and twisted or morphed photos, interviews with banned leaders is a regular feature to spread objectionable material. One way is to be reactive about this vicious propaganda by monitoring it. Once identified, contact the platform owner company to remove it and in worse conditions to ban the use of the particular social media platform. However, in very few instances, the company located abroad oblige the law enforcing agencies.

Registering an offence also does not help much in preventing the damage. I do not subscribe to the theory that law enforcing agencies should not resort to these reactive measures, but I advocate countering the same through well meaning use of social media by launching proper videos, interviews, photo sand discussion threads repeatedly without making it appear as propaganda. Using the think tanks and NGOs for this purpose is the best way to tackle the terrorists in this very effective and dangerous method. The fallout of this vicious propaganda is radicalization of youth. Not only Muslim young boys are falling prey to this propaganda, but also young Muslim girls have been victims of this nasty propaganda. Significantly, even Hindu & Christian youth, some of those working in Gulf countries, have been radicalized.

Even parents of these youth have failed to prevent them from radicalizing. Concerted efforts by the community, parents, police and friends have impacted the resolve of these youth in a few places such as Dhule, Osmanabad and Pune. But in many other places even apparently modern educated youth continue to be victims of Jihadist appeal. Few of these have resorted to loan wolf attacks as in Yavatmal.

As demonstrated by the strong political will of French Parliament in adopting stringent anti terrorism law recently after repeated terrorist incidents in France, every democratic country must show similar strong political will and evolve consensus to counter terrorist activities. Strengthening efforts by law enforcing agencies through modified legal measures would help to promote national security measures.

Terrorists have been employing legal as well as illegal methods such as smuggling of drugs, weapons and other electronic items and using them for terrorist activities. Promoting fake currency and looting of banks to obtain legal currency is one more powerful weapon being used by terrorists to destroy the economy.

Crowded places are an easy target for bomb blasts. Hence, adequate precautions need to be taken at bus stands, railway stations, airports, market areas, schools and colleges, financial institutions, heritage places, hotels frequented by foreigners and vital installations. The state government has installed CCTV cameras at five thousand locations in Mumbai. Similarly other cities including Thane, Pune, and Nagpur have been brought under CCTV coverage. Integration of the feeds from private CCTV cameras with police control room need to be completed on priority. Mere recording of the event is not enough. Effective monitoring of the same either humanly or through advanced software and generating timely alerts for action by right persons in authority is highly recommended. There is great scope for research in this direction by young Indian IT professionals.

Following 26/11 incident, government has created an elite force named as ‘Force One’ in Maharashtra. It is however necessary to equip it with facilities like helicopter so that it can reach anyplace without wasting valuable time. Patrolling boats have been sanctioned to make the vast coastline secular. The technical manpower for operating these is yet to become reality. Taking into account, long coastline of the country, there is a need to have central para military force to guard the coast effectively. It can supplement the efforts by Indian Coast Guard and Indian Navy. Equipping and training state forces is fraught with serious consequences with several instances of breach of national security from time to time.

The best strategy is to involve people in the fight against terrorism. Existing bodies such as Home Guards and Civil Defence are noticed to be inadequate. I encouraged Commissioners of Police and Superintendents of Police to provide training to police friends in the drill for detection and disposal of bombs, crowd control measures, and traffic regulations till the arrival of expert police staff. They performed the task of educating their friends and neighbors in taking precautions. They played crucial role in informing police about strangers and any unusual behavior by any individual including strangers. They serve as eyes and ears of the administration.

As is well known, Dawood Ibrahim, the most wanted terrorist was the son of a head constable in Mumbai crime branch. He started off as a school dropout and became the accomplice of Haji Mastaan in his narcotics trade. Subsequently, he established his own gang through trade of narcotics and weapons smuggled from across the border. To counter such situations, it is important that we focus on school drop outs, juveniles and make conscious efforts to rehabilitate them in the main stream. In Nagpur City, we identified about eighty juveniles from different police stations, took the services of trained counsellors and more than fifty eight boys showed remarkable improvement. With the help of Rotary Club, they were provided skills required for employment and today these children are living a normal life. These efforts need to be replicated in every unit so that foot soldiers of terrorism can be nipped in bud effectively.

Custodial violence is a blemish on the image of police forces. How can this barbaric practice be ended?

Following the financial crisis in 1991, the developed countries made it mandatory that India should establish National and State Human Rights Commission and honor the established practices enshrined in the Charter of Human Rights approved by the United Nations. Accordingly, the National Human Rights Commission and State Human Rights Commission have been established. In the last two decades, the NHRC has promulgated several orders and practices which make it mandatory to report every single incident of custodial death to this body. In several incidents, the NHRC continues to announce payment of compensation to the heirs of victims of custodial violence. Following this development, the incidents of wilful use of third degree against the culprits by police has gone down considerably. In a recent study, C.I.D. found that eighty per cent deaths in custody were due to natural causes, fifteen percent due to suicides and about three percent due to use of third degree methods by the police. The police have to abandon the outlawed methods of third degree totally with the conviction that it does not serve any purpose and it is counter productive. In the present scenario the awareness created by media, the civil society and measures by administration have put reigns on this practice. The police must ensure that even due to omission, no chance is provided to any person in custody to commit suicide.

Police should appreciate the psychology of the persons in custody. Police should realize that people prefer to commit suicide rather than live with the shame of being arrested. Therefore, unless absolutely necessary to arrest a person, it is advisable that she/he should be interrogated for couple of hours after taking all precautions and preferably the process should be recorded with the help of CCTV so that no one can point a finger of accusation against the police. As far as deaths in jails are concerned, it is advisable to have regular monitoring of jails and ensure quick release of persons granted bail or those who have outlived the custody period than prescribed by the penal sections. Regular research should be made to understand the best practices being adapted in the developed countries and implemented in India as well without any delay.