Give Us Cops A BREAK!
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com


The papers have been full of a recent survey conducted by an Image Management Agency on the average citizen's perception of the Delhi Police. This isn't the first one. Opinion polls on the Delhi Police have been conducted earlier, focusing on both the positive and negative aspects of the force. And being a services agency, the police, ever the favourite whipping boy of the community, has been at the receiving end - invariably notching up the largest negative feedback.

But one pertinent question regarding such polls needs to be asked: How accurate are they? In the latest one, 250 randomly selected citizens have been interviewed. To what extent the interviewed persons represent the citizenry would, to a great extent, determine the accuracy of the opinions analysed.

Talking of opinion polls, I recall the one commissioned by a leading daily around this time last year, the results of which were splashed across the front page. A startling revelation was made - a majority of the people considered the law-and-order situation in the city as being in the doldrums, even collapsed. The report added that a tremendous sense of insecurity had crept into society and that people had lost faith in the law enforcement machinery.

The news item carrying this opinion poll was thrown in my face at engagement after engagement wherever I was called to speak or interact with people, be it the Rotary Clubs or other Institutions of thinking people. I asked them to ponder a while and think. I asked them whether people really apply their mind to such issues before answering questions posed to them in a random survey? If at all someone had actually applied their mind, would they have given such seemingly flippant answers as have determined the results in the opinion poll?

The 'tandoor murder' case scenario is not difficult to picture. Someone is asked: "Did you hear of the tandoor murder?" The string of responses is predictable: "Oh! What a terrible act! What in heaven has happened to the system? How do these kind of things happen? How terrible, indeed, has the law and order situation in the city become!" There, you have your conclusion.

Did the 'tandoor' case actually instill a sense of insecurity among the people? Or, on the contrary, should this case have instilled a sense of confidence in the minds of the people in their own law enforcing agency? Was it not a fact that in this case it was the system that rose to the occasion through a functionary in the lowest rung of the department, to prevent the non-detection of a heinous and gruesome crime?

Was it not the initiative of this lone constable - not specially selected, but who happened to be on the spot witnessing an incident - that led him to preserve and detect something unusual, something out of the ordinary? And wasn't it this act of his which proved that the system and the department is quite sound and works well? Tell me. Should this have instilled further confidence in the minds of the people about their own law enforcing agency? Or should this have spread a sense of fear? A moment of clear thinking will give the answer.

Then I often wonder how come an opinion poll gets commissioned each time there is some adverse publicity leveled at the law enforcing agency. There was this other opinion poll commissioned immediately after the arrest of an Additional SHO and his compatriots in a robbery case looting passengers departing from Palam airport. No one condones the criminal act of a policeman. But then, while the criminal act of the policeman got highlighted, no one praised the prompt action and intervention by the PCR staff who apprehended the miscreants. It was policemen who reacted correctly and nabbed the culprits were colleagues. Against common perception, one would say! Isn't it common place for people to say offhand that a criminal act by a policeman goes unpunished. Of course.

But coming back to the point, why is it that opinion polls are commissioned whenever there is some publicity about an adverse act by a member of the force? Is it to further influence the people with the adverse prejudice fresh in their minds?

The Centre for Image Management Studies, in the present case, needs to be complemented on its latest survey, even though the result has shown a picture which is far from rosy. But to conclude that the involvement of the citizens with their police is low merely from the fact that 58 percent of them do not know even the telephone number of their local police station is questionable. Why should an ordinary citizen know the telephone number of his police station offhand? Unless, of course, there is in his mind the constant fear of getting into some scrape, or wanting police intervention. In my opinion, the fact that majority of the people (58 per cent) are able to live in the city without feeling the need to know the police station telephone number should in itself be a positive reflection on the law and order situation in the city. And conversely, that 42 per cent do know the telephone number could also be read as a high involvement of the people with the local police station - if, of course, one were to use the language of the pollster.

Eighty per cent of people interviewed are supposed to have said they would not report a crime. Does anyone know why? Is it because of the lack of response on the part of the police, or is it because of lack of confidence in the entire criminal justice system? Has anyone made a survey of how many people want to go to court and analysed whether this is a major factor that keeps people from getting involved in any way at all with the cops.

Thank God, there is a positive result shown through the survey which is that most of the respondents believe in the secular credentials of the Delhi Police. Caste, creed or religion do not play any role in the resolution of a law and order problem in Delhi. Thanks to the cosmopolitan nature of the force and the recruitment policies of Delhi Police that ensure representation from every corner of the country, this has been a hard won reputation. What is more positive, in my mind, is the silver lining that skirts the dark cloud. The small but significant number (9.4 per cent) of people who find there is "nothing wrong" with the Delhi Police. And believe me, it is this trust that the Delhi Police need to hold on to, to build on, and hope that the likes of these people grow. For this, it would be the endeavour of the Delhi Police to shed the image of an average policeman being a bully and having criminal nexus. For the purpose, the effort has been to bring about more accountability at all levels, and more transparency in the functioning of Delhi Police.

A final word about these opinion polls. One needs to guard against further erosion of the confidence of the people in the one agency to which they need to turn to in times of need. God forbid the day when the cumulative effect of the negative publicity results in the society rejecting the system, getting cynical enough to question the rule of law, and brings in anarchy. To prevent this, perhaps it would also be a good idea for those commissioning such polls to frame questions that also bring out the positive aspects in the functioning of the police, alongside the negative ones that need remedy.

850 words: dated 24.08.2004.
Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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