Study policing for the future

As we move closer to the third anniversary of the 26/11 terror strike on Mumbai, attention will again be directed to the failure of the police to effectively counter the threat posed by terrorists. The current debate on policing in India is focused either on the big-ticket initiatives like the NATGRID and NCTC or on the "bread and butter issues" of recruitment and training of the police. Implementing the recommendations of various Police Commissions on police reforms -- lying unimplemented despite directions of the Supreme Court -- is an essential but not a sufficient condition towards meeting the future challenges. These recommendations, even if implemented, will have only a palliative effect in the absence of prospective planning.

Future tense: The Bureau of Police Research and Development needs
to continually research the way in which the policing environment is
changing in the country

As it takes time to respond to any new situation -- to plan, recruit, procure equipment, train, develop infrastructure and at times, to amend legislation -- there is an urgent need to continually research the subject of future policing in this country. These prospective challenges for the police are related to change in environment, progress in technology, and organisational robustness.

Policing environment is incessantly changing, with an intrusive media, higher educational standards, demographic changes, rapid urbanisation, rabid politicisation of socio-political movements, violent expression of public discontent, and myriad internal security threats emerging in recent years. Let us look at the challenges posed by the rapid urbanisation taking place in the country. By 2017, World Bank estimates that 500 million Indians, nearly 38 percent of India's population, will be living in cities. 74 percent of Tamil Nadu and 61 percent of Maharashtra will be living in cities by 2026. Unless the manning, equipping, training and  doctrine of policing is attuned to these migratory trends, persisting with the old colonial rural policing model will further exacerbate social tensions caused by urban migration.

Technology-assisted crimes are believed to have cost the world economy more than $2 trillion last year, far in excess of the Indian GDP of $1.6 trillion. 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai were a telling example of terrorists using modern technology with deadly effect. A few such sporadic incidents apart, India is yet to be really hit by the tsunami of technology-assisted crimes. But this is liable to change in the future as technology occupies a greater space in our daily lives. However, the knowledge of technology in Indian Police remains abysmally poor with no institutionalised mechanisms to study technological developments and their impact on policing. 

Organisational challenges in the police emanate from unclear objectives, colonial militaristic command structure, antiquated weapons and equipment, semi-literate and ill trained people -- matriculate constables and head constables comprise 90 percent of the police force -- and outdated processes. The police manuals used by the state police forces today were drafted more than 100 years ago to deal with problems of that era. To be fair, the grossly inadequate number of policemen -- with only 133 policemen for a lakh of population compared to over 350 in developed countries -- has left police with little time and consideration for improvement. But that cannot be an excuse for ignoring the question of future challenges.

All modern police forces are applying the discipline of Futures Research to foster excellence in policing. FBI Academy first offered a course in "Futuristics in Law Enforcement" in 1982 and it now operates with the Society of Police Futurists International to bring academics and practitioners together to anticipate and prepare for the evolution of law enforcement into the future.

Though the Bureau of Police Research and Development was established in India with a charter for future research, there has been no systematic study so far of the prospective challenges that shall confront the Indian police. A changing world presents challenges and opportunity. Thinking proactively about the future by applying the discipline of Futures Research is the only way for the Indian police to face those challenges and seize the opportunity.

Sushant K. Singh is Fellow for National Security at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati-The Indian National Interest Review.

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