Recently, we have seen two major police-related incidents. First, two Haryana Police constables were murdered. Second, eight police personnel of Uttar Pradesh police were killed in the line of duty in the Vikas Dubey case.
Data indicates that between 1947 and 2019, more than 35,000 police personnel have lost their lives in the line of duty. A team of researchers of IIM Rohtak conducted interviews and interacted with 104 police personnel between the ranks of constable and IG to inquire about the reasons for the high casualty rate. The following major themes emerged from the analysis of the interview data.
First, inadequate training is possibly the most important reason for the high casualty rate among police personnel. The results are also supported by another study conducted by Lokniti-CSDS on the status of policing in India in 2019, which reported that only 6.4 per cent of police constables had received training in the last five years and this number has constantly decreased over the years. Given their inadequate training, the operational capability of police personnel may have been impacted.
Second, fatigue among police personnel is another important reason. Police personnel, on average, remain on duty for more than 13 to 14 hours, day after day. Fatigue has been negatively associated with reaction time, watchfulness, focus, situational awareness and psychometric synchronisation.
Stress is another important reason for the high casualty among police personnel. Stress may be categorised along two dimensions — job stress and situational stress. Stress has a curvilinear relationship with job performance. In other words, a certain degree of stress results in positive performance but beyond that, it has the opposite effect. Also, positive stressors and negative stressors act differently. Negative stressors in the form of departmental inquiries and general workplace maltreatment only result in reduced performance outcomes for police personnel.
Third, most operations suffer from inadequate preparation for low probability events. Threats are very often underestimated. Criminals can usually predict typical police tactics. Planning operations must also involve assessing unique scenarios caused by novel threats — for example, cybercrimes, use of sophisticated gadgets for crime, and superior intelligence-gathering by criminals. Striking a balance between tech-intelligence and human intelligence is integral to operational preparation. A lack of special drills and greater reliance on district police instead of special units such as armed battalions and STF (special task force) compound the issue of high casualties.
Fourth, reduced force visibility is another important factor. Bearing is an important determinant of how the police is perceived. Attire, perceived preparedness to act, and weapon visibility are critical deterrents. Given that the police usually follows a doctrine of minimum proportionate force, it becomes even more important to emphasise personnel bearing as a force multiplier and deterrent.
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Fifth, the fear of collateral damage is an important reason for the high casualty rate in police personnel. It is reported that police personnel are usually very reticent in using firearms in neighbourhood operations as it may result in damage to civilian life and property. The outcomes of collateral damage are often attributed to the police, which may result in negative career outcomes and a cumbersome litigation process.
Finally, a crucial reason for the high casualty rate is the breach of confidentiality within the force. Criminals having prior access to information make the police’s task more difficult. Identifying and marking the “canaries” in the system is essential for counter-intelligence also.
Increased emphasis on training, psychological assessments, creation of specialised units, positive reinforcement, motivation contagion modules, separate legal insurance, and a focus on bearing are some important inputs for the government and police departments.
We must recognise that police personnel are working against the odds while dealing with hardened criminals. We must all recognise their work and mourn with the families of those who lost their lives.
This article first appeared in the print edition on July 15, 2020 under the title ‘In the line of duty’. The writer is director, IIM Rohtak. Views are personal
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