SMART police stations fail to break status quo

A true SMART police station would be alert with intelligence and anticipation in order to reach out for timely remedies to effectively counter the epidemic of ‘visible crime’, whereas the police protocols continue to be tied down by the statistics of registered crime.

Vikash Narain Rai
Former Director, National Police Academy, Hyderabad

GOOD policing is conspicuous by its absence from the manifestos of major political parties. Not a word in their agenda speeches on police reforms; the prevailing crime scenario finds a mention only in passing. The vote-seekers would rather let the ‘terror threat’ narrative resonate in people’s minds.

In order to give a perspective to the popular notion of all-pervasive policing, then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would quote the Yaksha Prashna episode from the Madhya Parva of Mahabharata. Yaksha asked, “What is charity?” And Yudhishthira replied, “Charity consists in protecting all creatures.” Vajpayee would sum up with his characteristic flourish that the police, since only they could guarantee abhay dan (safe conduct) to the people in modern times, were doing the kind of charity which no other institution could do.

The primary reason why politicians would not seriously pursue the theme of police reforms is their lurking fear that the resultant course of policing might be too community-oriented to suit political fancies. The ‘State vs criminal’ cliché, in the prevailing victim-neutral criminal justice dispensation, has enabled the politician in power to extend patronage and benefits of manipulations to favourites during investigation and trial, without a backlash. The cliché of ‘police vs criminal’ guarantees them the least amount of direct accountability for the worsening crime situation. The other important reason for political indifference is the lack of emotional appeal that the routine of policing carries with voters, unlike the glamour associated with border strikes and adventure connected with counter-terror operations. The electoral status of everyday policing, in popular perception, is more like nodding silently to a necessary evil when compared to the roar of vote-catching appeal that is generated by issues like education, healthcare, jobs and housing.

In his first annual address to the police chiefs of India in November 2014 at Guwahati, PM Narendra Modi had called for making the police force of the country ‘SMART’: Strict and Sensitive; Modern and Mobile; Alert and Accountable; Reliable and Responsive; Techno-savvy and Trained. 

Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh had launched eight police micro-missions in 2008, ranging from training to technology and gender sensitivity to community policing, but grudgingly watched them petering away with their operationalisation entrusted to the existing red-tape channels of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). These so-called missions are still subjected to unproductive reviews year after year, sometimes with ornamental fanfare in true bureaucratic vein, by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, under the aegis of the MHA.

Within a month of Modi’s address, the Press Information Bureau had released a follow-up plan on December 29, 2014: “Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, as a first step towards SMART policing, has decided to establish one model SMART police station in each state and has asked the state governments to submit their proposals with specific location and components by January 31, 2015. The MHA has decided to allocate specific funds for setting up of SMART police stations in each state shortly.”

Some suggested features of a SMART police station are: 

  • Basic amenities for visitors, waiting area, toilets, drinking water, receptionist for the visitors. 
  • Rest room for constables; separate room for women constables. 
  • Natural lighting and ventilation, solar lighting, energy-saving features. 
  • CCTVs, secure armoury, record room, communication room for wireless, computers etc. 
  • Automated kiosks for filing of complaints by the public (with a back-end system for tracking follow-up action). 

The press release emphasised the role of the police station as the key functional unit from where the police discharge their tasks of maintenance of law and order and investigation of cases etc. and is also the primary point of interaction between the citizens and the police. 

How far have we progressed, apart from a few corporate-style police stations here and there and continued infusion of a bit of self-serving data technology therein? In fact, the concept of SMART police station was never intended to break the status quo in policing; the allocated funds rather strengthened the prevailing police cult. The response of the police to victims of crime still suffers from their traditional three-dimensional A-B-C (Attitude, Behaviour, Communication) handicap, paving a tortuous interface leading to secondary victimisation. The police still decide which crime will be promptly registered at the police stations and which will be blocked or completely ignored. The rampant practice of registering cross-cases out of the same occurrence, adopted as pressure tactics by the police, amounts to equating victims with perpetrators. 

A true SMART police station would be alert with intelligence and anticipation in order to reach out for timely remedies to effectively counter the epidemic of ‘visible crime’, whereas the police protocols continue to be tied down by the statistics of registered crime only. A smart way to transmit the feeling of safe conduct (abhay dan) into society at large would be to introduce policing by consent. The relative acceptance of Kerala’s Janamaithri police station model by the people and politicians is attributable to its emphasis on community orientation. In India, women’s security, juvenile justice and human trafficking provide big contexts to policing. So do corruption, terrorism, encroachments, the mafia, road accidents and cyber cheating. Sadly, the SMART police station has failed to impact any of them.

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