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Saturday, June 12, 2021

How to be a good cop

O P Singh writes: Advice to IPS officers on increasing credibility and prioritising communities while cracking down on crime.

Written by O P Singh |
Updated: June 8, 2021 7:56:11 am
A visible police presence is key to a sense of security that people feel at any point of time. (Express Photo/File)

People expect the police to control crime so that they can breathe easy and sleep well. Interestingly, they want you to be as fearless as a tiger, quick like lightning, selfless like Mother Teresa and submissive like slaves, all at the same time. So, the challenge is humongous.

Crime control is essentially the elimination of deception and violence in individual and group transactions. The sense of security as felt by people is subjective and fleeting. As a police officer, your approach to them must depend on which side of the law they happen to be at a given point of time and whether they have the heft to hoodwink you.

For operational convenience, you may safely assume that 90 per cent of people don’t want to have anything to do with you. They just wish that in their need, you won’t add to their woes. You need to soothe them with strategic police presence, prompt service delivery and effective communication. Seven to eight per cent are situationally driven to crime, most of the time not knowing that it would only further aggravate and perpetuate their miseries. Better, find a way to reclaim them. It is not an act of charity. It is an operational necessity to keep the number of offenders manageable. No law enforcement agency can succeed in a majority offender situation. Two-three per cent of people choose to break the law consciously. To them, it’s a high-risk-quick-money venture. Just get after them.

Map violent property offenders of 10 years on variables like age, affiliation to gangs, propensity for violence, number of offences committed and dependence on crime proceeds. Commit 10 to 20 per cent of your posted strength to heighten their operational difficulties. Checkmating them is important for your career. They are the ones who can strike at will and erode your credibility as an effective police officer. They, not you, become the role models and the talk of the town.

Delivering a sense of security is not limited to effective crime control. A big thorn in the flesh is the entertainment sector. Even you are not immune to it. It unabashedly glorifies violence. Hypercritical mass media and unbridled message-sharing platforms have added fuel to the fire. Together, they have created an echo chamber where even well-meaning people cry for instant brutal reprisals against acts of violence. Resist being an encounter specialist. It involves medieval tactics that were discarded long ago for being ineffective. It will make your unit hostage to elements that may turn out to be even worse than the malcontents they pose to fight. It is only a matter of time.

You don’t have unlimited resources to meet people’s romanticised and often exaggerated expectations. With multiple entry levels, your unit has a split organisational personality. Educated and articulate at the top, it gets less so as you reach the other end. Teach them to be like you, not the other way around. You have uncertain tenures. Hit the ground running, work through volatility, marshal meagre resources and take control of the situation in no time. And do resist being clones of fictitious movie characters. They are not real. Nor helpful.

Forget that you will get additional budget or manpower. Or that your men will master new skills. Your best chance is your ability to devise problem-solving models. You will have complete project ownership and zero gestation period.

For example, a visible police presence is key to a sense of security that people feel at any point of time. Instead of doing it all by yourself, host listening sessions with community leaders and vulnerable sections, inviting their opinions on how best to deploy available police resources that would give them the maximum sense of security. Along with crime hotspot analysis, work out a more assuring preventive police deployment plan. This collaborative decision-making can be extended to other areas of police work, too, giving people a sense of participation in how their place is being policed.

Disgruntled complainants going around with their tales of woe hurt your standing a great deal. If anyone reaches out to you with complaints of police inaction, tell your station house officer to call them and take any of three actions in a week’s time — register a case if it is about a cognisable offence, re-route if it concerns other departments and file it if it is false. If they fail to do so, tell them to appear before you with the complainant. Believe me, it works like magic.

People have a vast appetite for police stories. They are curious about what you are doing to keep them safe. The ongoing narrative is like the Tom and Jerry cartoons — nimble criminals giving tardy policemen torrid times. Reinvent your communication strategy. Tell the people how hard and successfully your unit is working, and how tough the criminals are having it.

Economic offences and cyber crimes have gone through the roof in recent years. You need to commit a good number of your posted strength to catch up with this new breed of criminals, looting people at will from remote and, most often, untraceable locations.

Rebrand your beat officers as family police officers, very much like family lawyers and doctors. Tell them to visit the families on their beats with prior appointments and advise them on safety matters. Task them to home-deliver challans, copies of FIRs and verification reports. It would endear them to communities like nothing else.

Above all, think about your signature contribution and your enduring legacy when you hang up your boots. As they say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Which one is yours?

This column first appeared in the print edition on June 8, 2021 under the title ‘The good cop manifesto’. The writer is commissioner of police, Faridabad. Views expressed are personal.

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