By Jhelum Chowdhury
An intriguing resource allocation problem that Police Reforms grapples with is the separation of the Investigative and the “Law and Order” responsibilities at the Police Station.
Investigation of crimes and maintenance of law and order are two separate functions requiring skill sets and resources that are quite different. An investigator of crimes has to sift through evidence, speak with witnesses, prepare a charge sheet and then participate in court proceedings. Maintaining law and order, more often involves standing guard at innocuous places and filing suo moto FIRs if the circumstances so warrant. Police Reforms Commissions have therefore very correctly recommended that the two functions be separated at the Police Station level.
However, in achieving this separation at undermanned and under-resourced Police Stations across the country, the problem arises on the manner in which manpower and resources be optimally split up between the two functions. Suppose there are three inspectors and eight sub-inspectors in a rural Police Station with jurisdiction over about one hundred square kms. Two inspectors and five sub-inspectors, let’s say, are allocated to solving crimes. That leaves one inspector and three sub-inspectors to maintain law and order among two hundred thousand people inhabiting thirty villages. What if now criminal activity declines but the area faces a land agitation? The investigators will be under-utilized while those responsible for law and order will find themselves over-stretched.
One way out of the situation is to centralise the investigating function and move it out of the Police Station altogether. In each Police District, the investigative department can be based at the SP’s office. In the cities, the investigator may be based at the DC’s office or at the head quarters of the Commisionerates.
“Investigating” SHOs can conduct the investigation of crimes, backed by a specialized team of sleuths and supported by a greater concentration of tools for investigation. There can be more effective liaison with the Forensic departments and probably also with the Public Prosecutors in the courts. There is also scope for more meaningful exchange of intelligence and learning within a more compact team. In the Police Stations, the SHO can focus only on maintaining law and order. He also needs to ensure that all FIRs are faithfully recorded and transmitted to the investigating team for further action. All ranks below the SHO at the Police Station will be focussed on only maintaining law and order. Also they can engage more on intelligence gathering in the locality as well, now that they are freed from undertaking investigation.
This can have the effect of significantly reducing the shortage of infrastructure and resources at the Police Stations. There would not be further need of maintaining records of cases and evidence at the Police Station. On the other hand the healthy effects of centralization of a specialist role will show in greater effectiveness in solving crimes.
The investigating teams can be developed as centres of excellence, with adequate training inputs and cutting-edge technology. Scarce trained investigative resource will be deployed optimally where crime has occurred. A common knowledge pool of case histories will further improve effectiveness.
Possibly it’s time to do this.
Jhelum Chowdhury is a Fellow at the Takshashila Institution. He leads the policy research project on Pursuing Police Reforms in India. Follow him on twitter at @jhelumc