The concept of democratic policing has been changing fast. From a force to suppress and restrict, it has to change to a system for social protection. In post-colonial democracies like India, the stigma police had, as the agent of colonisers, continued for several decades, and its new role in curving agitation on the street is often conceived as continuance of its wrong legacy.
Even in the so-called developed democracies, the role of police as an oppressive force still persists. Often the police, for all practical purposes, act like a paramilitary force in a different uniform as in the US. The notorious prisons in the US are an extension of this crude way of policing.
In this context, community policing being practiced in the UK makes sense for the policymakers for democracies. Though quality of policing matters more, its quantity too counts a lot. Ideally a policeman can look after 568 people, according to Bureau of Police Research and Development (that is, 176 policemen per one lakh population). But what we have is only one policeman for 761 people. Law and order being a state subject, both the quality of policing and the quantity ratio vary in a big way. West Bengal has the worst figures—one policeman for 1,658 people. Bihar is next with one per 1,456, Uttar Pradesh has one policeman per 1,173 people and Gujarat 1,021. Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are comparatively nearer to the national average. Small states have too many policemen. Goa, Delhi and Puducherry have one policeman for less than 350 people. Interestingly, the number of policemen is not an indicator of peace and security. In states with insurgency like Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur, there’s a policeman for every hundred people. This over-policing combined with the presence of military makes them ‘police states’ which is not a welcome sign for a democracy.
Community policing can change the concept of citizen security altogether as then security becomes a joint responsibility. Citizens and police sit together and discuss the problems of policing, especially in urban settings. From eve-teasing to robbery, crimes can be reduced to a minimum if this kind of partnership works properly. In Kerala, the experiment of community policing (Janamaitri Police) has started reaping rich social dividend.
The inclusion of women, both in constabulary and as officers, can change the character of police and policing. But unfortunately, we have only 5 per cent women in the police force. Women police stations too are few. Only in Tamil Nadu, there is a considerable number of women police stations (196). Chennai itself has 34 such police stations. But in Kerala, where the first women police station was established, only four such stations are working now.
Women police should not be an adjutant to the male-dominated police force. In many women police stations, officers are not working as SHOs who can charge and investigate the case. We have to have enough number of SHOs, and women folk has to feel free to tread in to the police station premises without feeling intimidated. This system can reduce the crime against children too.
In Indian social context, inclusion of SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities in police force is an important indicator of quality policing. Though there is a good number of policemen in this section due to affirmative action, these sections are scared of the policing system. Indian police have failed to pause as the protector and provider of constitutional rights for these sections. Instead, police look at them as a source of crime and treat them according to this wrong understanding.
The police have to be reformed to better the quality of our democracy. Unfortunately, police reforms have not found a proper place in the political agenda, even in the context of election manifesto formulation.