Police Universities: An idea whose time has come

On the 49th Foundation Day of the Bureau of Police Research & Development recently, Union Home Minister Amit Shah proposed to establish a ‘Police University’ at the national level. This university will have affiliated colleges in every state, which will offer undergraduate courses in policing. Touted as an unprecedented development in India’s policing and crime reduction landscape, this proposal aims to serve three main purposes: 1) improve the knowledge, skills and training of police personnel; 2) increase the use of research in policing policy and practice; and 3) allow 12th pass candidates to gain specific skills of police work, with special weightage in recruitment to police/paramilitary forces.

While this proposal is expected to be tabled before the Union cabinet soon, the concept of a Police University is already operational in the three states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Jharkhand, with each having one. These universities, while relatively young, are offering professional courses on criminal justice (for example, criminology, police science, forensic science) with an intention to provide skilled, trained and efficient manpower for police forces. Of the three, Raksha Shakti University, the brainchild of PM Modi, is the only police-oriented university which has kept the promise of bolstering local police efforts to combat crime, changing their perspective on tackling law and order situations.

So, is it worth making a huge investment in setting up an institute for imparting police education, when only one such university has claimed to have made substantial progress in its avowed purpose of modernizing policing, thus far?

The answer to that question is a resounding ‘Yes’. That’s because police education stresses not only on physical fitness, perseverance and certain handy skills like firearms and self-defence but also on developing a specialist knowledge base for all policing roles which reflects its current and future challenges. Of the many subjects taught under police studies, the one that is central to policing in many ways is criminology. The etiology and distribution of crime offers a foundation from which police agencies can develop a proactive approach and get smarter about crime control.

In Western countries, for example, police scholars and professionals use criminologically driven concepts – such as victim-offender relationship, geographic and temporal concentration of crime, early identification of high-rate offenders, differential involvement in crime by age and gender, and linkages between disorder, signs of incivility, lack of guardianship and crime – to create an effective and humane response to crime problems.

Remarkably, this practice is grounded in the belief that crime is a social phenomenon, tackling which requires police to understand its causal factors. Hence, the vision that the National Police University will serve as a think-tank – for tackling modern-day policing challenges – can only be realized when ‘intellectualism’ is brought into the police discipline. This means teaching policing not only with an emphasis on effective police practices but also with the intention to conduct deeper analyses about the role, functions and legitimacy of police. For this to happen, criminology must be institutionalized and formalized in the curriculum of police studies.

Challenges

There are three major challenges to teaching-for-policing agenda in the way of making a dent in solving serious policing problems through proposed police universities.

First, at present, there are only a few policing courses in India, and they teach only rudimentary policing skills. That’s because these courses are mostly taught by retired or serving police officers, who utilize their experience of handling ‘tough situations’ largely through their ‘great vision’ and larger-than-life persona. The success of policing work, however, has to be based on verifiable data and evidence-based strategies which are not dependent on larger-than-life figures. A pedagogical approach which is dependent on individual bravado and not empirical evidence may be detrimental to developing effective policing strategies.

Second, since the police education curriculum is directly driven by professional competence as defined by police officers and approved on the basis of existing delivery models, it tends to deal more with what is visible on the surface and of immediate concern, and less with policy issues which have implications for the future. This form of curriculum development often neglects the important role of social sciences in advancing crime analysis and in evaluating and assessing traditional police practices and new innovations in policing strategies. It also allows police experts to deliver their lectures based on field experiences and condemn theoretical insights as something constructed in ‘ivory towers’. There’s no denying that practitioners’ experience is important but being dismissive about theories whose origins lie in hard data analysis and research is really worrisome.

Third, the police studies curriculum, as followed in the existing police universities, has not been updated to incorporate new and practical concepts of crime reduction such as hotspots policing, problem-oriented policing, crime prevention through environmental design, crime mapping and analysis using GIS, situational crime prevention, etc. Because of these omissions, future police personnel may not be trained in a large body of knowledge about ‘what tactics and strategies work best’ in crime prevention and control.
Professional Opportunities

The idea of a National Police University will gain the importance it deserves when graduates of police science are provided with professional opportunities to practice their skills and knowledge. This may be done in several ways, one of which is to introduce ‘Criminology and Police Science’ as an optional subject in the Civil Services exam. Similarly, creating a special quota for the recruitment of criminology and police science graduates at the lower levels of police agencies would lead to influx of subject matter specialists in police ranks which could assist senior officers in framing evidence-based strategies for improving responses to complex crime and policing problems.

(The writers are criminal justice professionals)

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