January 25, 2008 11:58:44 pm
It all began with a statistic: Over 70 per cent of people, in the absence of any interaction with the police, turn to gossip for information on how the system works.
Bothered by cliched images of corrupt policemen in films and poor public perception, in a quiet room in the police headquarters behind the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, a plan was set in motion. Under the initiative of Rajasthan DGP A S Gill, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and IIMs were sent a letter asking them if they could help in the first “systematic” study on the functioning of the police and measure the extent of poor public perception.
“We wanted an objective agency with no baggage,” says Nina Singh, IG (Personnel). “We wanted to address the fact that human resource management is not given enough importance in the police. The goal was a sustained, doable intervention to improve.”
So when MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab wrote back saying they were interested, a pre-pilot project was undertaken in 10 police stations across three districts. For three months, all policemen in these stations were given a weekly off, ensured no transfers for a year, put on rotational duty and under the glare of a volunteer community observer.
The “experiment” with the five sets of reforms paid off. Today, in 150 police stations across 10 districts of Rajasthan, the small intervention seems to be going a long way to ensure more efficient policing. The five-pronged approach is slowly changing the way the beat constable in Rajasthan functions.
“What surprised us most was that the police did not officially get a day off,” says research assistant Daniel Keniston. “They are practically on duty 24 hours and normally avail their casual leave to go home.”
And that became one of the most important aspects of the project — ensuring that every policeman got one day off. In police stations with less staff, the intervention was customised to make it one off every fortnight. Simultaneously, a minimum tenure of one year was guaranteed.
A preliminary survey across the 10 districts also found that very few people actually come in contact with the police and most perception is not from direct interaction. “Some of the common responses were that the police is capable of solving crime but because they are inefficient, the crime rate is going up,” says research assistant Clement Imbert. “Moreover, only 7 per cent of the population was affected by crime in 2006-07, excluding cases like domestic violence.”
In response, a volunteer observer programme was drawn up. Every morning and evening, a local volunteer now spends three hours each at these police stations, quietly observing activity. The impact of this interface on the functioning of the police and the perception of the people is still being measured.
Based on the survey, a simultaneous training programme was also launched. Sponsored by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the modules included training on investigation and soft skills.
“For three continuous days we were told about positive thinking, better time management, punctuality, coping with stress. It slowly sank in,” says sub-inspector Ramroop Meena. “A lot of it is things we know, but don’t follow. In fact one of the participants in my group confessed that if he had sat through this session earlier, he would have done a lot of things differently.”
Even as various committee reports on police reforms gather dust in New Delhi, impressed by Rajasthan’s initiative, the Bureau of Police Research and Development has sanctioned Rs 90 lakh for further research.
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