The Delhi Police had its beginnings in a humble ward system in the hands of the assistant of a British ‘resident’ in 1803. More than a century later, in 1911, things changed drastically for the force.
At that time, its policemen wore khaki shorts and were equipped with Brown Bess rifles, rattles and bicycles provided to it by its erstwhile masters, the East India Company. But in 1911, its administration, just like the city it policed, was formally taken over by the Imperial British Crown. The Delhi Police even assisted its new masters in organising the opulent Delhi Durbar.
So far, the Crown had considered Delhi a mere provincial town. The police functioned from six stations and a handful of scattered outposts on arterial roads. However, given the novel status that the city would soon enjoy, this too was about to change.
“The very concept of Delhi being a seat of colonial power, as illustrated by the shifting of the Imperial capital, is wedded to it being a city of VIPs,” said Deepak Mishra, a 1984 batch IPS officer. Mishra was on the advisory committee of the coffee table book ‘Delhi Police: History and Heritage’ and is currently posted as Special Commissioner of the Delhi Police (Operations).
Those wielding imperial power, said Mishra, were required to reside in physical proximity of each other, not only for security but also to maintain “a horizontal network allowing free intermingling of administrative ideas for an emerging metropolis”.
Till the end of 1911, about 78 officers stationed at six ‘major’ police stations, carried forward from the Mughal era, had augmented the strength of the British Indian Army, albeit in the slightest manner. It was the British Indian Army that was chiefly responsible for maintaining law and order in the city at that time, and had played a minor role in policing an estimated population of about five lakh people.
Before New Delhi became the capital, there had been successful attempts at assassinating the local wielders of Imperial power — William Fraser, the first Divisional Commissioner and head of the police had been murdered by a local Nawab in late 1834. However, it was an unsuccessful attempt on the life of Viceroy Lord Hardinge on the ‘perfect morning’ of December 28, 1912, that changed the way the Capital was viewed, and policed.
This spurred the nascent British-Indian administration to increase the strength of the police to around 1,152 officers of varying ranks till the end of 1912 — the year when Delhi was formally detached from the Punjab and placed under the charge of a Chief Commissioner to ensure that it met the ‘requirements of the imperial Capital’. The chief commissioner was also, though informally, the ex-officio Inspector General of the police.
Between 1912 and 1926, alongside a steady increase in the numbers of the force, the Birmingham-made police whistle had replaced the rattle, the Enfield .303 rifle had taken the place of the Brown Bess. New police stations — including the New Delhi Police Station (now called Parliament Street police station) which came up to ‘protect’ the Raisina Hills in 1913 — were also set up.
The others were Daryaganj (1913), Shahdara (1914), Delhi Cantonment (1915). Tughlak Road and Mandir Marg police stations followed in 1941 and 1944, respectively.
The existing strength, that of two head constables and nine foot constables previously on duty at the Raisina Hills police post, was augmented over the years. Delhi Police started recruiting and promoting its own men instead of drawing them from the Punjab.
Meanwhile, the beat system of policing in the city became firmly entrenched in the policing system. Mounted on bicycles, horses, and a handful of motorcycles, the policemen went to the rural pockets around New Delhi, noting the particulars, criminal records of the villagers and their perception of the police in their Village Crime Register.
In 1935, the Kotwali police station was subdivided and one of the station’s chief tasks was to maintain a notebook of the city including details of its size, population and, most important of all, the ‘names of the influential persons’ residing in it. That same year, Hugh Oitway de Gale, Delhi’s Superintendent of Police, suggested the force should have a branch of female officers.
Four years later, it became the first force in the country to have its women police battalion.
As per an HT report published on January 14, 1931, Delhi Police had conducted at least four mock drills by detaining and searching ‘Indian Passengers’ on tongas. The cars belonging to VIPs like members of the Executive Assembly, however, got flags with red dots in the middle to prevent them from being stopped ‘unnecessarily’.
The Viceroy’s House was inaugurated and occupied by Lord Irwin on January 23, 1931. And the officers protecting the Viceroy’s House were the first ones to get their hands on .455 bore revolvers as early as 1939 as the papers of the time treated the slightest incident to be reported from the ‘Vice-regal household’ special. These ‘special’ incidents could range from the murder of the house’s chowkidaars, the accidental toppling of roof(s), and thefts of items ranging from spoons to gold watches from Connaught Place.
The Delhi Police formally got its own traffic branch, with its own radio control cars and trucks, in 1950. A strength of 212 officers was formally detached and rechristened Traffic control men to manage a vehicular population of a surging 19,321 even as the city got its first traffic lights between 1950 and 1952.