Police Reforms and Accountability
- 21 Nov 2023
A fair and effective legal system hinges on efficient police reforms and unwavering accountability. This is vital for upholding the Rule of Law while ensuring that law enforcement agencies respect the rights of the people they've sworn to protect. Police forces must undergo modernisation and professionalisation to adapt to the evolving needs of society. Equally important is accountability, which acts as a crucial check against abuse of power. An accountable police force instils confidence in the public, a fundamental element of a competent force. Only when citizens feel safe and believe that their police adhere to high standards of conduct do they respond with peaceful and law-abiding behaviour.
The Indian police force grapples with various challenges, including political interference, inadequate training and resources, overworked and stressed personnel, and a lack of accountability. Instances of misconduct and abuse of authority further erode public trust in the police.
On October 21st of each year, we observe Police Commemoration Day. This blog strives to spotlight accountability measures that can be implemented and advocate for specific actions that will create a police force that is not only transparent and efficient but also dedicated to its citizens' needs.
Reforms in the Past:
Following are a few of the historical attempts at police reform in India:
- The Police Act of 1861: This Act was brought by the British, following the 1857 revolt and led to a centralised hierarchical structure, mainly to prevent any future revolt.
- The National Police Commission (1977-81): The NPC was formed under the Morarji Desai government and recommended measures to improve the efficiency of the police force and bring professionalism. The Commission also recommended that in case of any custodial rape, death due to police firing, or excessive use of force, judicial inquiry should be mandatory.
- The Ribeiro Committee (1998): This committee recommended setting up Police Performance Accountability Commissions in states and the District Complaints Authority.
- The Prakash Singh guidelines: The Supreme Court of India issued 7 directives to bring police reforms in the Prakash Singh vs. Union of India of 2006. These seven directives included continuing a State Security Commission, fixed tenure of the DGP, a two-year term for SPs and SHOs, separate investigation and L&O functions, setting up of Police Establishment Board, Police Complaints Authority at the state and district level and National Security Commission at the Centre level.
- Model Police Act, 2006: Adhering largely to the precedent established by the Prakash Singh Decision of SC, the Model Police Act was framed by the Soli Sorabjee Committee. The committee submitted its recommendations in 2006, "to enable the police to operate as an efficient, effective, people-friendly, and responsive agency".
The overall judicial system is strengthened by accountable policing, which guarantees that everyone is treated equally and in compliance with the law. Police accountability and reforms are fundamental components of a democratic society that values justice, openness, and the defence of individual rights; they go beyond simple administrative procedures.
Some of the measures are:
- Making the police a SMART force:
The Indian police force must become strict and sensitive, modern and mobile, alert and accountable, reliable and responsive, tech-savvy and trained. Numerous studies show that when police officers treat people with respect, allow them a voice in interactions, and behave following principles of transparency and accountability, people are more likely to obey the law, which reduces the likelihood of crimes.
- Use of Body Cameras: Body-worn cameras can help police officers keep an objective record of their interactions with citizens, which can serve as essential evidence in case of any investigations and hold both parties accountable and responsible for their behaviour. The Prakash Singh guidelines, issued by the SC of India, also advocate the usage of body cams.
- Oversight committees: The Model Police Act promotes setting up independent civilian oversight committees which can provide an external perspective on the behaviour of the police force. These committees made up of community leaders or representatives, keep an eye on and evaluate police actions to make sure they comply with moral and legal requirements.
- Training on Ethics and Education: Promoting an accountability culture within police enforcement requires ongoing training on ethical behaviour, human rights, and community relations. It provides officers with the understanding and ability to respond to circumstances appropriately and competently.
- Set up Police Complaints Authority: Following the Supreme Court, an independent authority must be set up to deal with and investigate the complaints of police misconduct. The Model Police Act of 2006 mentions that each state must establish an authority consisting of retired high court judges, police officers and public administrators from another state.
The Need for Transparency:
Transparency is crucial for building public trust in police operations. Open decision-making instils confidence that the law is applied fairly. Achieving transparency requires holding law enforcement accountable, fostering ethical conduct, and encouraging citizen engagement. In police reform efforts, transparency facilitates public involvement. Informed citizens can advocate for necessary changes. Transparency aids in pinpointing areas that need police practice and policy improvements, identifying deviations from intended procedures and addressing biases. This ensures that rules are followed as intended and promotes fairness and justice in law enforcement, ultimately enhancing outcomes and public trust.
Community engagement significantly enhances police reform efforts by fostering trust, understanding, and local insight. Actively involving communities provides valuable knowledge about their specific needs and priorities. This information enables law enforcement to tailor their strategies and tactics to address community-specific issues effectively. Moreover, community interaction creates a platform for open dialogue and feedback, allowing people to voice concerns, report wrongdoing, and propose improvements to policing procedures, promoting accountability.
Furthermore, civic engagement helps build positive relationships between police personnel and citizens. Officers who actively engage with their communities become approachable and trustworthy partners, leading to improved communication and more successful crime prevention and resolution. Ultimately, community involvement drives inclusive, people-centred policy changes, emphasising the importance of collaboration between law enforcement and the communities they serve. It also reinforces a shared responsibility for safety and security, strengthening the overall effectiveness of policing efforts.
Various committees have made several important recommendations. According to a status note on Police reforms in India, the National Police Commission (1978-82); the Padmanabhaiah Committee on Restructuring of Police (2000); and the Malimath Committee on Reforms in the Criminal Justice System (2002-03) are the most notable. It further mentions another Committee, headed by Shri Ribero, that was constituted in 1998, on the directions of the Supreme Court of India, to review action taken by the Central Government/State Governments/UT Administrations on police reforms, and to suggest ways and means for implementing the pending recommendations of the above Commission.
The NPC of 1977 made a comprehensive review of the police system at the national level. The major recommendation was to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973. The Rebeiro Committee endorsed major recommendations of NPC with certain modifications. The Padmanabhaiah committee set up in January 2000 presented its report in August with 240 recommendations out of which 154 recommendations were accepted. The Malimath Committee on Reforms in the Criminal Justice System set up in November 2000, headed by Dr. (Justice) V.S. Malimath made 158 recommendations including that of setting up a central law enforcement agency. The Model Police Act of 2006 focused on the functional autonomy of the police agency, encouraged professionalism and made accountability paramount for both performance and conduct.
During the monsoon session, the Government of India introduced three new criminal laws in Parliament, which are currently under consideration. These bills aim to replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and the Evidence Act, which were originally enacted during British rule. Home Minister Amit Shah, speaking at the 49th All India Police Science Congress, emphasised the need for updating these laws, as they have remained unchanged since 1860 and expressed confidence that the passage of these new criminal laws will expedite the delivery of justice to the people of India.
A fair and just system is contingent upon how efficiently the police agency operates. Police reforms and accountability are thus essential to ensure the highest standard of conduct and to prevent any misuse of power. There is no doubt that the foundation for a modern, smart, and accountable police force is provided by legal and policy reforms. To ensure a safe, secure and harmonious society, the pillars of democracy must strengthen, and for which various law enforcement agencies must serve and protect the citizenry. This can only transpire when reforms are brought through legislation and are enforced on the ground.