The New York Police Department’s (NYPD) latest initiative to reach out to public through modern technology – mobile phones, to be specific – is an attempt to make their service more user-friendly and purposeful.
The initiative – tentatively titled the ‘sentiment meter’ – is the brainchild of NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. The Commissioner is aware of the problems the force faces with an average New Yorker and believes that direct surveys conducted with the help of smartphones hold a lot of promise.
Mind you, the NYPD is not among the most popular forces in the country. It is considered both corrupt and brutal, with a pronounced anti-African-American bias. A number of well-meaning past commissioners, including Bill Bratton, a legend, had done their best to bring about an image makeover. However, their efforts did not endure. Hence, Commissioner O’Neill’s latest innovation will have to be evaluated with circumspection.
NYPD Seeks Feedback
As part of the new experiment, that uses location technology, questions will be sent to citizens via 50,000 smartphones. These questions cover three broad themes:
1) Do you feel safe in your neighbourhood?
2) Do you trust the police?
3) Are you confident in the NYPD?
The NYPD believes this round-the-clock survey will help them garner feedback from diverse sections of the community.
Mind you, New York is a matrix, as much as London, and the police are often liable to be labelled motivated and prejudiced against minorities. The ‘stop and frisk’ practice , synonymous with the NYPD, had been at the centre of criticism. The police justify this practise by claiming that it has helped them recover a phenomenal number of firearms.
Only time will tell if O’Neill is more than a new broom that sweeps well; but he must be complimented for this expensive experiment that should kindle interest in our police honchos as well.
Shortcomings of the Indian Police
There is generally a valid criticism that the police force in our country is corrupt, and clueless about people’s expectations. There is a marginal realisation that they can improve their image by working with opinion leaders in the community and victims of crime. This is lamentable to say the least.
The failure here is not that of the politician.
It is the failure of the IPS leadership, which is more occupied with pleasing the ruling party and pursuit of seeking benefits, than improving the quality of service for the common man.
If the system has not yet collapsed, it is because of a small fraction of enlightened policemen at all levels, who have a conscience and a sense of humanity, urging them to work towards ensuring justice for the common man.
Those who are cynical, for a variety of reasons, including maltreatment by ruling party goons, are liable to dismiss the NYPD move as being nothing but a gimmick. I saw this in ample measure at the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, while lecturing to participants at the Mid-Career Training Programme (MCTP) a few years ago.
The faculty included quite a few distinguished policemen and professors from the UK and USA, who were appalled at such a highly educated and well-meaning members of IPS cadre being averse to learning from the successes and failures of foreign police forces.
The Home Ministry is now said to have given up the programme totally. The IPS officers view this decision taken by the IAS mandarins in the North Block (MHA) as insensitive and unwarranted.
Fusing Theory with Practice
Improvement in quality comes with a desire to learn. Where there is arrogance, and an attitude that there is nothing to learn from others, one cannot expect even an iota of improvement in organisational processes, especially in a service agency like the police.
And I can say this, based on my direct exposure for two years at a US university known for its strength in the area of criminal justice. Professors David Bayley (an Indophile and advocate of ‘smart policing’), Jack Greene (organisational behaviour), Larry Sherman (evidence-based policing) and Ron Clarke (situational crime prevention) were the academics who greatly influenced my thinking on policing. A common thread in their teachings was the emphasis on the need to fuse theory with practice, and a desire to keep ears to the ground so that one understands what the consumers of police service want.
Elite IPS Officers Should Introspect
The fundamental question is how to bring about the much desired image makeover of our police. I want to steer clear of the hackneyed argument that political interference in day-to-day policing is the bane, and that something must be done to civilise the street-level political heavyweight.
The police – more so the IPS elite – should introspect more and stop complaining about the inadequacy of their tools. The common man is fed up with police’ dishonesty in investigations, police station-level and street-level traffic police corruption, and the insensitivity towards the simple demand for protection from thugs.
These are the things which need attention, if we are to change the face of the Indian Police.
Even a marginal improvement in these areas will be welcome to the poorest of our citizens. I would blame the officer class more than the grass root-level officials in the police for the current mess in policing.
(Dr RK Raghavan is a former CBI Director. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)