After Delhi cops, it is time for our governments to get real

  • Shivani Singh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 05, 2015 12:22 IST

Crime rate, like inflation, is always on an upward spiral. But figures for 2014, released by Delhi Police last week, saw a shocking near-100% surge in crime. There were 421 cases reported every 24 hours, including 12 street crimes every hour, a rape every four hours and molestation every two hours.

At face value, the figures suggest that the capital experienced an unprecedented crime wave last year. But anyone who has lived in the city long enough would tell that Delhi's streets didn't suddenly become more unsafe than they were a year before.

The police chief attributed the high crime rate to better recording of cases. "Last year, I urged (the force) we must stamp out burking from our functions," he said at the annual press conference last week.

For those not familiar with police officialese, burking means refusal to register a crime. Originally meaning smothering a victim - coined after the modus operandi of serial killers Burke and Hare in 19th century Scotland - it has since passed into use as a word for any suppression or cover-up.

For years, burking has been the standard operating procedure for our cops. Crimes were often misclassified, toned down or made to disappear altogether. Street crimes such as snatching or mugging were not even given a hearing. Responses to rapes and molestations ranged from not believing the victim to blaming her for the crime. Cops fought over jurisdiction, pushing the case to next district or thana, to keep their own records on the lower side.

On paper, crime is not crime unless reported and recorded. Two years back when the Julian Assange case put Sweden's rape rate under the spotlight, BBC analysed the global figures on sexual assaults.

It found that in 2010, the Swedish police recorded 63 offences per 100,000 inhabitants. This was the second-highest in the world, three times higher than the number of cases in neighbouring Norway, and twice the rate in the United States and the UK. It was more than 30 times the number in India, which recorded about two offences per 100,000 people in 2010.

Did that make Sweden the most dangerous place in the world for women? Klara Selin, a sociologist at the National Council for Crime Prevention in Stockholm, told BBC that the Swedish police recorded each instance of sexual violence in every case separately, leading to an inflated number of cases compared to other countries. Reform in the sex crime legislation in 2005 made the legal definition of rape much wider than before. But most importantly, women were going to the police more often because of increased awareness, encouragement and efforts to improve handling of these cases.

Following the December 16 gang rape in Delhi, our governments also tried to fix responsibility. Refusal to lodge a case now invites a two-year jail term for a cop. One can't tell if it is fear or a sudden positive change in the mindset, but reporting of rape cases has seen a 32% jump.

It is only when there is accurate crime data, can the police get realistic estimates of what they are up against and the resources they need to tackle it. As the number of cases piled up, Delhi Police's success rate of cracking cases fell from 48% in 2013 to 29% in 2014.

It turned out that the 1:200 cop-citizen ratio in Delhi, the best in India, was not good enough anymore. A single cop had to handle as many as 30-40 cases at a time. Getting women investigators for rape and molestation cases, as mandated in the new law, became the biggest problem. Delhi Police now want the 6% women representation in the force doubled.

Detection of crime has to be followed up by deft investigation and convictions. For this, the police force needs bigger budgets, better technology, more forensic labs, a larger pool of prosecutors and judges for faster disposal of cases, and more room in the state prisons.

For years, Delhi Police refused to bite off more than it could chew. Now that it has made a promising case by registering more instances of crime, it is time for the government and the political establishment to give more teeth to the force.

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