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POLICE PERCEPTION MANAGEMENT

Police stand guard outside the Aarey Colony after demonstrators held a protest demanding that the Mumbai Metro Rail Corp Ltd (MMRCL) not cut trees to build a train parking shed for an upcoming subway line, in Mumbai, India, October 5, 2019. REUTERS/Prasha

The perception that the people may have about the police force needs to be received and communicated with an open mind regardless of any criticism by any stakeholder. 

A recent report in some quarters of the media about the status of policing in India is being widely read and talked about and is largely believed to be true. The methodology and analysis of the findings do not find a place in such media reports while only the outcome is highlighted.

This report appeared at a time when a news item about the police chief of a state seeking a prosecution sanction under Section 199 of CrPC (defamation) was also finding the headlines in some parts of the country. 

Incidentally, both these attention-drawing pieces of information reached me when I was visiting a police museum in Tokyo. 

These interludes of the wider fame of police perception necessitated me to write this opinion piece. There are certain harsh realities that we will have to accept. Perception can only be built by a professional outlook and a conducive medium. In one state in India, the police chief of that state resigned from service to contest the election. Shockingly, after he lost the election, he was permitted to rejoin the service. 

It is an ‘easier said but rarely practiced’ concept of separation of personal life with official duties. Such professionals are not seen with political ambitions and, if such a rare breed exists, it is extremely difficult to identify.

The news report doing the rounds of the media on prejudices prevailing in the police force about Muslims, Dalits etc can be painted as a clear piece of sensationalism. The changing society has reduced prejudices significantly. Police forces are also affected by the societal changes irrespective of accusations of bias.

The perception management in the police and achieving higher professional standards cannot be segregated. The various approaches about the perception management adopted by the police forces of the country have not helped. Even the engineered publicity like various ‘Singhams’ of the police force, has bitten the dust; reality exposed in due course of time. 

The political sabbaticals for many of them have ended up as misadventures. Political parties relying on such serving and retired officials have not been able to count many gains. This is because, the simple philosophy of poor perception about police force is much deeper which needs to be addressed.

The recent attack by an Opposition leader against a police chief of a state, the latter seeking sanction under Section 199 CrPC and the same being extended to the police chief, have been widely reported in the media. 

This provision lays down duties on the state to protect public servants against acts of defamation. It also necessitates that the expenditure incurred by the state in defending the officers is rationalistic and for good public cause. Thus, the need to produce such details in the public domain.

However, various retrograde analyses will demonstrate that these cases do not reach their logical conclusions. At best, they symbolise a defensive approach. Therefore, it will only be appropriate that the police chief - the state government in particular - take such cases to their logical end. 

The records of the trial of such cases must be brought to the public domain to know how and why such accusations were made, the truth and falsehood in these allegations, the optimum of prosecutions and counters of the defence, all as a guide for younger officers to decide a professional path and improve the standards of policing. 

My recent visit to the Tokyo police museum was an eye-opener. Admission is free at this six-floor museum. Its mascot is named Peopo – taken from people and police. The theme of “trustworthy and community-friendly police” set me thinking about the enormity of the challenges in police perception in India. 

Each floor is dedicated to highlighting key characteristic of the police force with themes like protecting the people and the city, the capabilities to resolve incidents and accidents, the present and future of the Metropolitan Police Department, safeguarding the capital, changing with the times, history of the police force, and a hall for conducting events. 

On one floor, children can wear police uniforms, take photographs, ride on police choppers procured by the Tokyo Police in 1953. It displays an array of exhibits tracing the Metropolitan Police Department’s history including the current engagements. 

Instilling fear

Children can have fun learning what it is like to be a police officer with child-friendly attractions such as animation movies and police-work simulators; on floor 4 is an exhibit titled “present and future of the city police and how they are safeguarding the city”.  

The perception about the police is formed and changed from childhood. In the Third World countries, fear of the police is instilled in the minds of children. Here, the police organise “crime week” or “crime month” with big banners with photos of police officers for self-glorification. The reality, however, is that neither the banners nor the photos instill confidence.

My brief police museum visit and interactions with the police officers there made me realise a few things, paramount being perception is not a projection. It is a product of realising the hard reality of imbibing professional values and professional approach to a common man.

The least we can do is to give access to the people to our working environment, reach out to them with an interactive approach, reduce the service deficit by introspection, correction and by adopting an honest approach.

Challenging criticism by self-denial, finding a legal way to silence criticism and riding on the vectors of misplaced publicity through the captive forces will elude any perception improvement. At best, it could provide only transient perception management.

(The writer is Additional DGP, Government of Karnataka)

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