This sort of behaviour of both the police and the community is not a one-off incident in Delhi - there have been one too many cases like this in the recent past across the country.
This piece focusses on the police officer's conduct and the proposed corrective measures being considered by the Police Department in Delhi - whether these are holistic enough, and how else can we work on corrections for the larger good of society.
Just a few days ago, there was a case where an Assistant Sub Inspector of Mumbai Police shot his superior dead and then turned the gun on himself. It is believed that the junior officer was seeking leave, and was not getting it. This later led to a statement from the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, on the need to examine how cops can get a weekly off.
Leave in police is a privilege and not a right per a pre-independence law that has not changed since then. Leave of police personnel is cancelled or suspended at the drop of a hat in India, a land of holidays.
There have been a few studies in recent years estimating the actual work load at police stations. Though not specifically aimed at the investigation function, these provide some clue about the existing gap.
A recently-released Bureau of Police report on eight-hour shifts in police stations looked at the existing "supply" and found that the majority of police stations had its staff putting in work days stretching from 11 to 14 hours. Further, most police station members could get only one or two weekdays off during the month. The report estimates that to enable policemen to work 48 hours a week with an assured weekly holiday, it will take 68% enhancements in the police stations' strength. Another highlight was that of the total strength, only a third was posted in police stations, though, admittedly, it was the most important part of police organisation. Indian police strength is 2.28 million personnel with a vacancy of 24.56% as on 1.1.2014. Source: BPRD (Bureau of Police Research and Development)
When departments have large vacancies, it leads to increased pressure on the present strength which has its own (often stress-induced) destructive behaviour.
This is expressed within the service and people in incidents termed road rage and other violence which are repeating far too often. The key difference is that just a few get publicly exposed while others go unreported, but leave behind increased hostility and a disconnect both within the department and between the cops and the people.
Such a situation cannot go on and needs urgent repair. It's a question of and limb of the nation.
Here are two initiatives noticed:
1. By the Police Commissioner in Mumbai where the Mumbai Police has started to look for answers to certain stress-induced or related behaviours. The rank and have come together in batches to undergo psychological analysis to identify problems and seek remedies both for the individual and departmental resource management. The exercise is being led by Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria with the support of the Bombay Psychiatric Society. The questionnaire being filled by cops comprises of 68 questions which includes their conduct with their family, their relationship with their colleagues, and even this: "I have difficulty in remembering what I did the previous night after I was drunk".
Seniors leading this first batch said, "A larger message needed to be sent to the force that they should fill the forms with honesty and that they should not think their would be affected if they speak up against their seniors".
The officers assured the ranks that their responses shall be kept confidential and dealt with only by the experts. They will evaluate and the concerned officer directly to suggest remedial measures required. They will, as the expert said, identify those fighting depression, stress, or addiction will be approached for treatment.
The Mumbai Police has decided to cover the entire 50,000 force for psychological analysis.
Why not do something similar in other states? This in fact needs to be an ongoing exercise inbuilt to stay ahead and stay alert.
2. By Delhi Police Commissioner BN Bassi when he said, "We will need systemic changes to see that even under pressure, our officers act as per the law. No matter what the situation, they must behave with courtesy and not lose their temper." He further said, "As far as training of our officers is concerned, our objective is to see that our officers must not react out of rage".
He also suggested that policemen should carry devices to make sure their interactions with the public are recorded on tape or camera. He said the aim at the training level was to nurture among the personnel the ability to stay calm.
Staying calm, managing stress, the capacity to absorb hostility, feeling of deprivation of certain basic essentials, family and social responsibilities, and financial inadequacies to meet the expectations of growing children, -income families...all this needs advanced management techniques.
There is a strong case for a comprehensive approach to Human Resource Management in police services, which ensures constant by seniors, periodic review, career progression, medical check-ups, closer communication, family welfare, etc.
In brief, 3 Es... Empowerment, Engagement, and an Ecosystem in human resource management.