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Urbanisation and rising crime call for a fresh approach to an overworked and demoralised police force. Reform and planning must go together, writes AP Maheshwari.

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Development may be the crux of civilised society but it comes at a cost. Financial wizards talk of monetary costs and at best opportunity costs, but often neglect the psycho-behavioural costs that can make society bleed if not tackled properly and in time.

When marginalised segments of the population remain on the outskirts during the process of development, it leads to integrated urban landscapes whose support infrastructure is provided by have-nots. Living in satellite concentrations around cities, they survive by rendering menial services to the urban elite. As a direct consequence, these areas also end up being breeding grounds for delinquents.

Demographic shifts from resource-poor villages to urban centres add not only to the population of these clusters, but also to its problems. The issues range from poor infrastructure to psychological maladjustments. The problems that the rural young face when they come to big towns chasing work and dreams have often been written about. Social alienation apart, a lack of professional skills make life diffi

cult. A segment of rural youth may also have ready access to cash earned by selling land around emerging urban centres. This money is often lost to an unsustainable consumerist lifestyle. This makes them vulnerable to criminal interests that can successfully enroll them.

The indifference and frustrations inherent in large cities lead to aggressive behaviour. Psychological distortion is one of the main causes for the innumerable rapes, murders, child abuse, sex racketeering, drug trafficking and looting reported daily. Urban settlements also nurture dormitory townships where bread-earners live away from families, causing the breakdown of nuclear families.

It is not only the rootless rural youth in the cities who are to blame. The rich urban youth have also lost their moorings. Declining parental control, rampant materialism and an exaggerated focus on personal freedoms devoid of responsibility, have added to social problems.

There is a perception that either there is no town planning in India today or it is highly biased against the poor. All this adds to the challenge of urban policing. The various solutions that routinely come up in discussions have either not been fully implemented or have failed.

Finer combinations of community policing along with planned social security engineering is a sound principle. While community policing can address area-specific problems with active interface of the community with the cops, social security engineering can help develop infrastructures and logistics with inbuilt security systems. The integrity and viability of such systems is high, as the experience in developed countries shows.

Psychological operations and perception management are effective tools to remove cognitive-dissonance which, more often than not, lead to role and goal conflicts within society and its sub-systems, particularly the police agencies.

A professional approach is finally needed and that calls for change in the police work culture. The traditional ‘danda’ police has to give way to a trained, responsive, responsible and motivated professional force, technologically equipped and free from extraneous pressures. This has often been noted by many police commissions.

It is the right time to go in for performance-based elevation of personnel in terms of delivery of public service, value addition to the organisation, enhancement of professional skills and other tangible parameters in lieu of broad gradations and time-bound promotions. Deadwood needs to be eliminated at each stage. Leaving aside the sovereign functions, various police jobs can be privatised or assignments can be designed to induct experts from the free market on contract. This would provide more leverage for growth and adaptation on professional lines.

The police force is today saddled with many masters — bureaucrats, political masters and the judiciary. Primarily, the police are an agent of the law. What the judiciary thinks police reforms ought to be is resisted by the other two agencies.

The police perform critical functions and a slight lapse can spell death. The police’s role is primarily crisis management and they must be emboldened to take up the challenges this entails. Too often, the police shy away from basic duties and refuse to face death for the security of citizens.

If the urban landscape is to remain peaceful, the contours of policing have to be changed. One cannot afford a marginalised police. Overworked, stressed, misdirected and misused forces are pushed into committing suicide or breaking down, at times, violently. Developing India needs a cultured police that is skilled and well-behaved.

AP Maheshwari is IG (Operations), CRPF

First Published: Feb 21, 2007 16:39 IST