India Short of 500,000 Police: Why It Matters, and Why It Does Not

India has one officer per 720 people, while in the US there is an officer per 436 people, and in Spain, one per 198.

Published
India
2 min read
There should be an officer for every 454 people, according to UN standards quoted in the South Asian Terrorism Portal. (Photo: iStock)

India was short of more than half a million police officers on 1 January 2015, the last date for which nationwide data are available, the Lok Sabha, parliament’s lower house, was told on 26 July 2016. But our analysis of global police staffing patterns and murder rates in six countries suggests more police does not necessarily mean less crime.

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Where the police-population ratios clearly do matter is in the hours that police work in India. Up to 90 percent of Indian police officers currently work for more than eight hours a day, according to this 2014 report from the Bureau of Police Research and Development. 

It said 68 percent of police report working 11 hours a day, and 28 percent report 14-hour work days. Nearly half report that they are called to duty between eight and 10 times a month during offs.

India Has One of the Lowest Police-Population Ratios in the World

There were 17.2 million police officers across 36 states and union territories, when there should have been 22.6 million, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. There should be an officer for every 547 Indians, according to a government-mandated ratio – called “sanctioned strength” in official jargon – but the number is one for every 720.

This is among the lowest police-population ratios in the world. In the USA, there is an officer for 436 people, in Spain one for 198, and in South Africa, one for 347.

In a ranking of 50 countries, India was second from the bottom, better only than Uganda, according to this 2010 report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. That year, there was a police officer for every 775 Indians so the figure presented to the Lok Sabha represents an improvement.

There should be an officer for every 454 people, according to UN standards quoted in the South Asian Terrorism Portal. Using those standards, Bihar needs more than three times as many police officers; even using Indian standards, the state needs 2.7 times the number of police that it has.

While it appears logical that a favourable police-population ratio is correlated with a lower crime rate globally, studies on the relationships are inconclusive, even contradictory, according to this 2010 American study. Our analysis of police-population ratios and homicide rates appears to agree.

In India, insurgencies and other extreme examples of lawlessness in some states push up crime rates, despite seemingly adequate police staffing. For instance, Chhattisgarh – wracked by a Maoist insurgency – has a police officer for 574 people, not far from the Indian standard.

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