Police reforms: A suit and couple of handcuffs to start with

I am sitting in the waiting area of a large hospital looking for a subject to write about, but my train of thought is constantly getting interrupted because of a commotion breaking out in the lobby every five minutes.

The main protagonist of this drama is a security guard placed strategically to prevent relatives of patients from entering the critical care unit. And, with the uncouth crowd that he is trying to control, all my sympathies are with him.

But, as I watch him carefully, I start seeing a pattern. Nearly all his attempts to stop people end up as a personal fight between him and the person, because he appeared to be a firm believer of fighting fire with fire.

As he countered rudeness of people with matching vigour, the end result is always a shouting match that he won predominantly by his loutish personality.

As I watch him make his own job difficult, I am forced to think, as it was not a unique situation. Across India, our policemen end up in the same situation, ie turning a law-enforcing exchange between a representative of an authority and an individual into a personal fight between two human beings.

Is the rudeness and aggression used by police in dealing with citizens really making their job easier or tougher?

Indian police today is in a strange state of flux. It is not appreciated by the citizens as an authority. So, the situation at the citizen end of the problem is difficult to correct. But, can it change at the end of those in position of authority?

If we dissect these interactions, there is no doubt that the first frame of this drama normally has two unequal actors, as citizens still fear the power of inconvenience that police can cause. So, the real key to deterioration hides in how the person in authority responds.

It is this firm policy of rudeness-first by police that holds key to the horrible experience that the police offers to its citizens.

There is no doubt that rudeness-first is a cultivated mechanism evolved over years of trying to deal with unruly masses. A policeman knows that any attempt of nicety will be looked at as a weakness at his end, and the citizen on the other end will be embolden to become ruder. So, deterrence through rudeness is a tested and proven technique that he has trusted till now.

Unfortunately, as we get more democratic by the day, this policy is going to end up turning public-police interactions into a no-win situation at both ends. A correction is the need of the day and the only practical way to initiate it is at the authority end.

India needs to introduce some simple psychological ploys in policing that have worked universally.

Indian police needs to spruce up its public end by reducing the number of those put on the job of dealing with public and invest heavily in improving the look and feel of them.

Dealing with public is a specialised job in modern civil society and police must recognise that reality.

When a well-dressed, well-trained person with dignified bearing and self-confidence is interacting with a citizen, chances of the exchange to remain pleasant will increase dramatically.

It is a small step, but better uniform and a specialist cadre is the first and much-needed move for all police departments dealing directly with people.

The second move required is setting up of standard protocols for all interactions, especially the police, as Indian police is very often guilty of over-engagement with people.

As we are a social and gregarious people, our police gets into the thick of things, often with a good intention of diffusing the situation.

Unfortunately, this human approach is not suitable for a modern state where authorities are better off with impersonal and need-based interactions with citizens.

What Indian police really needs is a dramatic increase in use of handcuffs instead of engaging with people through rudeness or violence. In case of a situation turning volatile, handcuffing a person will instantly change the psychological frame of reference as it changes the nature of relationship fundamentally.

Handcuffs are a great psychological tool employed effectively by USA police, as they reduce the need of interacting with the culprit verbally or physically to establish authority.

Indian police is facing an uphill task of dealing with a dynamic democracy. As police is the first responder to practically everything that happens, they need all the help they can get.

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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