Reforming police

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P Chidambaram have rightly drawn attention to the importance of police reform for the country to be able to deal more effectively with its internal security problems. The prime minister has called for the creation of a new-age police force where policemen are better motivated, and equipped and trained with the latest in tactics and technology. How ill-equipped our police are was laid bare with striking vividness during the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, when cops with lathis and antiquated rifles were seen battling terrorists armed with sophisticated weaponry. Some steps have been taken to modernise the equipment and working of the Mumbai police. This should be expanded to include the police forces in other parts of the country as well. A police force with an antiquated armoury is of little use.

Apart from lack of modern equipment, lack of motivation among police across ranks has undermined their work considerably. This must be blamed as much on political interference as on poor remuneration. Police officials are transferred frequently. As the home minister put it, they are treated like footballs, kicked around from one post to another. They are transferred every time there is a change in government and cops known to be close to the ruling dispensation are brought into key posts. Those who resist political meddling are humiliated with punishment postings. This has contributed to poor morale. Poor salaries have also weakened motivation and encouraged corruption.

The government’s solution to this has been to introduce a system of rewards for elimination of terrorists and underworld dons. This has encouraged cops to fake encounters, undermining the country’s criminal justice system. Instead, the government needs to provide better working conditions and recreational facilities, improve salaries, and protect cops from political interference. Reports recommending reforms of the police system have been gathering dust for years. These need to be implemented.

An important issue that needs to be addressed is to tackle police brutality. Cops need training in investigation and questioning techniques. Their use of torture to elicit information is a violation of human rights. The police are enforcers of the law. They cannot be violating it.

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