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Opinion | Police reform must target weakest link

While technocentric threats pose evolved security problems that need to be addressed, overhauling the police force is essential to move forward.

htls Updated: Sep 27, 2018 17:48 IST
HTLS 2018,vikram sood,police reforms
The police force needs an image makeover.(Arun Sharma / HT File Photo )

Reimagining internal security may seem the easier part. Putting into place security systems based on carefully assessed emerging threats to fit into the reimagined internal security is the difficult step. The source, nature and range of threats will change in a rapidly technocentric world. Earlier practices of building new superstructures carved out of existing organisations will no longer be adequate or appropriate.

Yet, for India, old threats will continue, even as new ones including internet-centric risks evolve. Future security threats, internal or external, will use different tactics and weapons. One frequently hears of the expression “weaponisation of the social media”, where platforms originally meant for leisure and exchange among friends are now increasingly being used for sharing or spreading distress and mobilising support for socio-political uprisings. Cyberactivism, in an era of instant encrypted communication that is beyond the reach of advanced security systems, reaches audiences far larger than many engaged in handling such situations ever imagined. There will thus be increasing pressures on intelligence agencies to deliver in a situation that is rapidly evolving.

During the Cold War, the US had imagined a project they called MK-Ultra, designed to attain mind control through the use of drugs. The 21st Century version of the concept is data-mining companies using personal data to analyse predictability. Their findings are available to the buyer or anyone who commissions the project – be it a foreign government, a private corporation, a terrorist organisation or organised crime syndicates. Those who can imagine this adequately will be better prepared to Reimagine Security.

The government recently announced that a stretch of the international border with Pakistan had been given a laser fence for round-the-clock surveillance, thermal imaging technology, underground sensors, fibre optic sensors and radar and sonar technologies to secure the border. This sounds promising. It is essential to be smart but also important not to readily inform the adversary about how smart our systems are. Moreover, smart border fencing also requires that such schemes have downstream coordination of smart communication, extreme mobility and speedy reaction with a counter force that can check incidents of intrusions.

Accurate advance intelligence is a prime requirement but so is how it is received and acted upon. Any system is as strong as its weakest link. In India, the weakest link has become the local police officer, the first face of law and order.

Our problem is very basic in many ways. What the country needs is a modern and smart police force, trained, sympathetic, educated and accountable. Such a force would use modern technology and weapons; would possess rapid physical mobility. It has to be trained in the use of modern technology and the gizmos that accompany it, keeping in mind that the days of the lathi and bamboo shields are over. The beat constable has to be the “go-to” person for the common citizen, the police station has to be a place for shelter and security. There has to be a human and humane face of the force with which the citizen is willing to interact and feels confident about providing information.

The police officers must be given an image makeover and their dignity restored. We can begin by giving them decent hours of work and a decent and safe place to live with family. It is the lowest rung, which has to be cutting edge, but is currently the weakest link in the chain. More than 150 years ago, the British-appointed Fraser Commission had given a bleak picture of the police force and described it as corrupt and oppressive, having failed to obtain the cooperation of the people. Seventy years after Independence, the view has not changed much. There has been politico-bureaucratic resistance among states against reforming the police force that is now considered increasingly under the thrall of the states’ political satraps. Unless these essential reforms, something that well-known police officers such as Prakash Singh have campaigned to bring for years, are implemented, a reimagined security apparatus will remain a dream.

Vikram Sood is adviser, Observer Research Foundation and author of a recent book, The Unending GameA Former R&AW Chief’s Insights into Espionage

First Published: Sep 26, 2018 13:32 IST