That cop on a friendly beat

That cop on a friendly beat

Bangaloreans want the City police to make them feel safe and secure, anywhere, anytime. But thanks to the “black sheep” in the department, the stereotypical image of the men in khaki as rude, corrupt and inefficient is taking time to change.

The burglars were sharp, the burglary well-planned and executed. They had locked several houses in the Annasandrapalya neighbourhood before breaking into Mukesh Nandan’s house three days ago. But Nandan had a greater shock waiting for him when he returned from a three-day trip: The jurisdictional police stoutly refused to register a case or visit the spot. The culprits struck the locality again, three days later!

In her hurry to reach home before dark, Rakshitha walked down the desolate street ahead. The lights were few and far between, no autorickshaws would come her way and she knew it could get real dangerous. She had heard of robberies and chain-snatching incidents, but never seen a police patrol vehicle on that road, stuck deep as it was in one of the city’s new BBMP areas. Today, she wished she at least spotted a man in khaki!

A media student in an institute on Kanakapura road had lost her wallet, and with it, all her identity cards. She approached the local police only to be told that nothing could be done. She was casually told to apply for duplicates. But the girl realised the danger when an unidentifed man tried gather all her details misusing the ID cards. 

These episodes, reported from different parts of the city in recent weeks are disturbing pointers of a system in decay, a machinery in need of repair. Faced with rising threats of robbery, theft, rape, murder, molestation and chain-snatchings, the citizens are in dire need of a public safety net. They want to be reassured of their security. They want the police to respond to their calls promptly and act decisively.
At the Karnataka State Senior Police Officers Conference here recently, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had cited the rising crime graph and sought answers from the police department. But the police say they have their own problems of poor staff strength, diversion of personnel for VIP security, challenges of training and modernisation.   

Reluctant FIR registrations

Yet, there is no escaping the reluctance by many police stations to register a complaint and file a First Information Report (FIR) without a push from top. A senior official from the city police admits that this is the case. According to him, the local police do this to give an impression that the crime rate is low in their jurisdiction. More cases will only increase pressure from the higher-ups to crack the cases, thereby adding to the burden.

But the official is quick to add that not all complaints are genuine. A majority of cases, he says, are related to loss of valuables worth about Rs. 500. If a complainant had lost his phone or money during transit, the police have the added issue of jurisdiction. If a passenger boards a bus in Majestic and realises that he lost his wallet once he reaches home, the police ask him to go to Majestic. In this confusion, precious time is lost.
The police say even if they register a complaint, they will have to carry out a preliminary investigation and then transfer the case to the police station concerned.

The process is repeated all over again, implying a loss of manpower and time. But often, the victims of crime are short of time and they end up going to the nearest station. Since registration of complaints is getting computerised and increasingly interlinked, transferring a case to another station should not be a herculean task.
Senior officers assert that episodes of poor police behaviour do occur, but are not the rule. Thanks to the deeds of a few “black sheep,” the entire department is blamed, reasons one official. “Despite several confidence-buidling measures taken up by the police, the stereotype of the personnel as rude, harsh, corrupt, and non-responsive still lingers in the minds of the people. This is why many people hesitate to approach a police station,” the officer explains.

Failed experiments

To help victims of dowry harassment, molestation and rape, the city police had set up an all-women police station. But the concept was a failure. A senior woman police officer contends that such a station can never be a solution. “When a police station is a mix of men and women, all kinds of cases come to the station. The level of experience and maturity is more. They consider all matters, try to involve all the concerned parties. In an all-women, there is only one way of looking at things which may not be correct. We received complaints that the station staff were very insenstive to the problems of women,” she explains.

If the victims of crime somehow survive the rude behaviour in the stations, they face another bigger, often insurmountable problem: Corruption. “It is the reality, not a perception,” says another officer, preferring anonymity. “This is the biggest challenge faced by many honest, service-minded officers. Many times, the lower officers try to subvert the entire process by taking money. We need to work overtime to see that such men are thrown,” says the officer. But the officer agrees that it is a pervasive culture which has spread its tentacles from bottom upwards.

Staff shortage is an oft-repeated complaint of the police department. With Bangalore’s explosive growth both in terms of population and area, the law and order infrastructure has been overstretched. The city’s existing 142 police stations and 17,000 personnel (law and order) have been rendered grossly inadequate to serve the daily safety and security needs of a population exceeding one crore.

As if these challenges are not big enough, the policemen are frequently diverted for VIP duties. Often, leaves are cancelled and the men are made to stand along the VIP routes for hours to serve their political masters. This invariably affects crime investigations jobs.

Mounting problems

Surely, the police have their problems mounting. But, since better police-public relations are still in their infancy, people continue to perceive the men in khaki as rude, corrupt and inefficient. Many attempts have been made in the past to change this perception through police meetings with residents welfare associations.
A top city police official says the officers do listen to complaints from the public and take remedial action. To improve the behaviour of lower-rung police personnel towards the public, several soft skill development programmes are being conducted, says the official.

Involving the community to ensure safe neighbourhoods has always helped the police tackle crimes better and boost its public image. But many attempts in the past have not been sustained due to the gradual loss of interest. The Area Suraksha Mitra initiative, launched in 2009, has the potential to change the scene, provided the stakeholders, including the community, the NGO and the police keep its ambitious purpose of a crime-free Bangalore alive.

Safety of women and senior citizens should be the topmost priority of the city police, Siddaramaiah had emphasised at the recent conference.

Additional Commisioner of Police (Law and Order), Kamal Pant agrees, and says women victims of harassment need to just dial 100 and approach policewomen appointed at every station to lodge their complaints. Not every policemen is rude and arrogant, he says, adding that stations in Karnataka are far more public-friendly compared to other States.

Do’s and don’ts

Pant offers a list of do’s and don’ts for senior citizens and women staying alone: They should always inform their neighbours or friends or relatives before engaging any stranger to do repair works or any other service. They should verify the background of maids and servants before appointing them. They should make sure that they do not venture out alone during night.

Another officer has this to add: Citizens should always be on their alert and exercise caution. They should not leave everything to the police. They should not take things for granted. For, “anything can happen to anyone, anywhere!”

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