Sanjay Singh, IPS, ADG (Western Zone) throws light on his experiences during Covid times, how community policing became an integral part of the process, unique policing challenges, disaster preparedness of the force and much more. Excerpts:
1) How important is the Western Zone from law and order aspect? How are you and the team presently handling the recurring law and order situation of this stretch covering crucial borders?
A: The Western Zone comprises eight districts and has a variety of policing problems. Some of the major issues are agrarian/industrial disputes, communal tensions, road safety, LWE and inter-state issues. The district police units have evolved strategies built on problem-oriented policing. Here are some of them:
- Best practices are identified and scaled across the Zone.
- Innovative mindset maintained to identify tactical solutions.
- Long-term strategy put in place, particularly by the police leaders.
- Citizen-centric approach is always maintained to arrive at solutions to problems in collaboration with the people who are most affected by it. Peale’s maxim — “The public is the police and the police is the public” is never lost sight of.
- “Border” management is done effectively by establishing a mechanism for regular interaction and exchange of concerns as well as information from the ground-level upwards. Best use of technology is also made for this purpose.
2) You have worked with Kolkata Police for a very long time and experienced the challenges of urban policing. You have also handled the challenges of rural policing. What are the major differences that you have identified during your journey?
A: KP has a different set of problems from WBP. Policing of a metropolis confronts one with a variety of problems which may not prevail at a lower level in rural areas. For instance, one of the biggest challenges of KP is managing smooth traffic movement. Sensitivity towards public order is also higher in a city because of its implications on the rhythm of economy and businesses. Protection of vital assets and personalities is another major task for KP. The anonymity of huge floating populations also brings about its own security challenges. All these are met with a better police-public ratio, vis-à-vis the WBP.
If we talk of unique policing challenges of the WBP, I would mention management of resources, maintaining order in huge stretches of land and handling unpredictable law and order situations.
3) Crime patterns have changed across the country in the last decade. Do you think our cops have also evolved with time? What are the significant changes you witness in policing?
A: The problems have changed and so have the ways of dealing with them. A new category of crimes has come up; one that is scalable. A cybercriminal sitting in a room in a remote corner of the world could carry out a cyber heist whose victims could number in lakhs and whose payoff could be in crores. This makes most traditional crimes like dacoity and robbery look pale in comparison. Even in traditional crimes being committed today, technology-based communication, including mobile phones, has come to play a major role. This has required the police to greatly enhance capabilities for technical analysis. That has happened across the country and at every level. Even district units are now self-sufficient to investigate such crimes.
Apart from this, there are some general changes in the mode of functioning of the police. There is much more application of general managerial principles, greater dependency and utilisation of data, and evaluation of evidence of the effectiveness of policing practices by an enlightened class of police leaders.
The average education level of the police, particularly at the lower ranks, has also risen. On the one hand, while this has led to a more intelligent police force, it has also led to rising aspirations of the personnel.
4) The Covid crisis has raised a few questions on the disaster preparedness of the police force of the state as well as the country. What could be the probable face of policing in the post-Covid era?
A: Covid presented a challenge that the police had never come across before. Implementing the regulations for mobility restriction and social distancing were the first major challenges. Then the mass migration of people from one corner of India to another came about with thousands finding themselves stranded miles away from home. When the Covid cases started rising, the isolation of positive cases was a major exercise. All through this, the supply of essential services had to be maintained despite almost a blanket ban on vehicular movement. Panic buying had to be dealt with. Almost everything had the potential to deteriorate into a law and order situation. But I would say that the biggest achievement of the police force was to present its humane face to society and go out of the way in providing them with some succour amidst all this hardship. Being in the frontline, along with health professionals, the police personnel were exposed to the pandemic and bore the brunt. We paid a dear price but did not let our morale sag.
5) Several experts have stressed the importance of ‘beat policing’ and ‘community policing’ to bridge the gap between cops and the community in order to handle crisis situations like Covid better. What is your opinion on the effectiveness of ‘beat policing’ and ‘community policing’ in regard to the migrant labour crisis that the administration had to face in Bengal? How did you and your team handle this?
A: “Beat policing” has been found to be the most effective in several studies. Not only does it empower the constabulary to have a more active stake in policing, but it also establishes a bridge with the people. Of course, it is manpower intensive. In the original conception, it was thought that an officer would know most of the citizens in his beat by face and would have a base of operations (like a beat house) within his area of responsibility. He would be involved not just in the police work but also in the day-to-day problems of people that may require coordination with other agencies. There is sufficient evidence for the efficacy of such systems. Handling the migrant labour crisis required community policing innovations. Police set up coordination mechanisms with civil agencies, NGOs, corporates, philanthropists to establish community kitchens. Many labourers who found themselves jobless because of the shutdown of their respective industries were provided food and shelter in situ with the support and help of their erstwhile employers.
6) Administrative Reform Commission and the Supreme Court have accepted the need for having an independent complaint authority to inquire into the cases of police misconduct. Do you think complaining against an officer will solve the issue? Or as a community, we have to work together towards resolving it?
A: I believe in the saying “Nemo judex in causa sua” (No one is the judge in his own cause). To that extent, an independent grievance redressal mechanism makes sense. But police reforms are much more than just isolating a few bad apples. It requires a systematic approach.
7) The existing police infrastructure is also inadequate to cater to the needs of the police force. There is a huge manpower shortage in the department. The police-population ratio, currently 192 policemen per lakh population, is less than what is recommended by the UN — 222 policemen per lakh population. Why do young men and women of the country often shy away from joining the force? How can we change this viewpoint?
A: I don’t think the manpower shortage is linked to an unwillingness to join the police services. The service conditions are reasonably attractive and every recruitment drive sees a deluge of applicants! The shortage is actually caused by budgetary constraints.
8) The Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System (CCTNS) was envisaged to link every single police station in the country. How can technology embolden the overall policing of the country?
A: Technology is a force-multiplier. It reduces the effort required to perform policing tasks and results in far better outcomes! I created an application for crime and criminal search in 2015 called Crime Criminal Search (https://www.wbpcrime.info). Later, I also created an iOS app for it (https://apps.apple.com/in/app/crime-criminal-search/id1386723364). It has been adopted most vigorously and spontaneously by the police officers of West Bengal and has helped in the detection of innumerable cases! Younger officers keep informing me of how a particular case was detected through CCS. It also has some features for the general public to get some relevant information and also help the police with interesting clues.
9) Several aspire to become an IPS, though few succeed. What is that one thing that you feel is important to crack this coveted exam?
A: I think the most important ingredient for qualifying for the Civil Services Exam is the mindset. One must be oriented to serve India, society and also adhere to issues pertaining to public policy apart from being willing to make a gargantuan effort in the chosen optional subject.
10) When an officer gets a posting in a completely different state what should be his or her approach? What are the initial challenges that you encountered in West Bengal?
A: One must remember that one is a part of an All India Service. Every state is one’s own! On a practical level, since our work starts at the grassroots level, understanding the language, the ethos and the culture is paramount to connect with people and serve them under every circumstance. I didn’t face any problems as such and within a few years, not just me, but my children had become fans of Satyajit Ray’s films! In fact, my younger daughter’s first spoken words were in Bengali!
11) Even after so much work pressure and other adversities, what is that one thing that helps you to don that uniform every morning?
A: It is really an honour to wear khaki. I passed out from IIT Delhi and my career could have taken a totally different trajectory. In retrospect, I feel grateful to be able to have a job where I can help a person in distress directly and see the results of my efforts with my own eyes.