Image Crisis
Maxwell Pereira

maxpk@vsnl.com

There is I believe a growing discomfort within police organizations of today. Contrary to popular belief, more and more policemen are shying away from the much sought after, high profile, public interactive and 'lucrative' postings, and opting for less important, non-controversial positions. The popular term in vogue like in most departments government, is just to "time pass!" Ever heard of over-reacting? ….enough to be one's own worst enemy? …being victims of one's own adverse image?

This perhaps is one among the major problems confronting the police, knawing at the core of its very structure! And sadly, there isn't an agency - government or academic, or a social scientist in our country, concerned or interested, to make it a subject of study, an area for research and remedy.

The police themselves are too busy to be bothered, or to study the rot setting in. There are too many of those pulling strings even now for the District and Traffic postings as compared to those who don't, so why care! For the police unfortunately, it is a matter of crisis management daily, as one day rolls into another. No time for any long term perspective; enough to just survive for today, in the belief that tomorrow will take care of itself. Will it?

Are the police aware of what's happening? What is affecting its rank and file? Leading to each going his/her own way - to survive the day? Individually, each cunning enough, shrewd and contriving, along the way? With rampant reliance on short cuts, and an eagle's eye for opportunities for a fast buck! …why not! To hell with ethics, the requirements of the job, or those of the department; of the service expected, or the over all interests of the victim or the victimized, the robbed, oppressed or the distressed.

A crisis of identity, a crisis of attitude, a crisis of image!

The police are perceived as a bad lot! …and so, no wonder much aligned! The ones at the cutting edge levels, never doing the right in people's eyes - at least in the eyes of those that matter, or give it its image. And then, however can the media sell itself without badgering and maligning!

And the rot that's setting in? ….an acquiescence, or resignation to an inevitable fate. Kind of "…why should I bother. Whether I perform or not, I am at fault! If I do not get results, I am incompetent, inefficient! ….if I act, and correctly, the boss has no guts to stand by me! Depending on whose toes I have trod on, whose interests I have harmed, or who is hurt, and what is the clout behind him, determines my fate. So why at all venture, why at all bother! Let me not stretch my neck beyond limits that are comfortable, and let me make my buck wherever it's possible!" That, I believe, is the predominant motto, across the board!

So in all this, what is the role of those at the higher levels? …those who supervise and Lord over the ones at the cutting edge levels? I'd say there is also the crisis of total "institutionalized cowardice" all around, especially at these managerial rungs. Are the police finally the victims of their own image?

Being aware of the weaknesses in the system - be they systemic or human, the police hierarchy tends to believe the worst, at the sufferance of truth or facts - especially about their own rank and file. All that one has to do today is to point a finger at the police - rightly or wrongly, and the tendency within the police management is to believe the worst! Resulting in the whole exercise turning 'inquisitorial' rather than 'accusatorial' as it ought to be! The onus of proof shifting totally to the one in the police alleged of misdemeanor, and not on the one pointing the finger needing to prove. It is, "believed to be guilty, until proven innocent," if it's a policeman that is alleged against! And who else better placed to point fingers, than the media! For the upper echelons within the police, it is safer to believe and victimize the subordinate! Institutionalized cowardice, nothing less!

To my mind the rot set in the day one of the erstwhile police chiefs thought it wise strategy to feed and leak to the media his dressing down asking the officers and men to "pull up their socks" - and the press lapped it! Good masala for the columns, positive publicity for the chief! An in house matter cunningly contrived to be made public, with mutual scratching of backs. This media scoop of one, positively bettered by those that followed, to make it the order of the day. No concern to the demoralizing impact on the force or its officers. The art of self survival at the cost of running down subordinates and their actions.

There is danger round the corner, of a backlash from the rank and file, over the 'political correctness' sought to be practiced by superiors in their dealings in matters concerning subordinates and their interests. Or in the matter of applying the same standards of conduct equally to all sections within the organization. It is high time the Indian Police take heed from a recent study in England by Sir Bill Morris on race and sex discrimination within the police, whose focus though different, nevertheless addresses candidly the growing problems of institutionalized cowardice within the Metropolitan Police Agency.

900 words: 21.12.2004: 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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