The police spray water at fans of the River Plate club to keep them from jumping over the gate and on to the field at the end of a promotion soccer game with Belgrano in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on June 26.
THE shrinking world we live in demands uninhibited sharing of knowledge and experience across nations in every field of human activity. Taking a narrow provincial perspective of live professional problems is no longer valid if the aim is to improve the quality of governance, be it in public administration or in private enterprise. There is, in fact, abundant wisdom waiting to be tapped in the most unexpected and remote corners of the world to make our day-to-day existence less complex and more meaningful.
It is this rationale that lends credibility to such annual conclaves as the World Economic Forum in Davos. Professionals and opinion leaders fully appreciate the need to trust the ability of others to contribute solutions for some of our problems rather than remain cloistered as in the past. Driven by this assessment, Professor Dilip Das of the United States, a former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer and a colleague of mine in the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) way back in the 1970s, chooses to collect academics and practitioners in the field of criminal justice once a year in some part of the world and give them a forum to expand critical ideas that agitate them.
Having attended the International Police Executive Symposium (IPES) in the past – twice each at home and abroad – I have become wiser on some vital areas of policing after exposure to discourses by eminent experts in the field. The Kerala Police had played host to the IPES in an incredible show that won the hearts of many foreign delegates, some of whom wanted to return to “God's own land”. This year's meet held recently in Buenos Aires may have attracted smaller numbers and lacked the usual frills – because of the unfortunate sudden demise of a local sponsor – but it did not lack the punch that IPES sessions normally pack in their deliberations.
The three-day meet was attended by delegates from the U.S., Canada, Australia, South Africa, the Congo, Poland, Hungary, Kosovo and Serbia, besides South America. Incidentally, this was the first time that the IPES was held in South America, a land that has begun to make its impact on the global scene in several areas. Prof. Dilip Das feels vindicated by his choice of place because, in his view, the region is weighed down by a wide range of problems – poverty, drugs, political instability and violence – that have a profound impact on policing. Many of the countries there are struggling hard to emerge from their earlier chaos and a lack of respect for the constitutional and democratic order. Some countries, such as Chile have done very well and will not be required to look back, while a few others, such as Mexico, are still lagging behind and need external help to set their houses in order.
The theme in Buenos Aires centred on issues pertaining to growing violence in the modern world. In tune with this, one of the first subjects dealt with policing concerns in the area of managing crowds that gather on occasions such as the G20 conference, with all its controversies, and major sporting events such as football matches and the Olympics. (Interestingly, even while the IPES meeting was going on, there was disorder in parts of Buenos Aires following the relegation of a local team from the top section of the national football league. The nearly 6,000 policemen deployed on the job found it hard to contain the frustration of the local fans.)
The Serbian delegate gave a graphic description of how football games had engaged the police in a big way in his country. Even in the early 1960s spectator violence was not uncommon, and invariably this had been triggered by on-field gesticulations and verbal exchanges by players. Serbian football fans copying the behaviour of their English counterparts and the sudden surge of nationalism that followed in the 1970s and 1980s posed an enormous challenge to the Serbian police. The infiltration of sports bodies by politicians added to the complexity of the problem and necessitated the promulgation of a special law, which was amended repeatedly to meet the needs of a dynamic situation.
The consensus of the symposium was that violence in sports was not an exclusive problem of the police. Education of players and fans and the stigmatisation of those who indulged in inciting of feelings offered the best hope. The police in India should consider themselves fortunate that the national obsession with cricket remains largely free from hooliganism. Arrangements at major matches have been on professional lines, although one feels that excessive deployment of police has been somewhat of an aberration.
On the issue of police arrangements at contentious gatherings, the G20 conference in Toronto in 2010 came in for a detailed discussion. Given its political overtones, the large number of protesters who tried to disrupt the conference initially were handled too softly. As a result, the situation went out of control, necessitating the use of excessive force at later stages. This is typical of many such demonstrations all over the world, which needed dexterous but firm handling. The point is that political directions to the police to handle public protests in a manner so as not to hurt the fortunes of a party in power seldom help in restoring peace quickly and actually cause immense damage to the police. We have seen this happen far too often in India. Political and civilian oversight of the police is a sensitive subject that many police professionals shun. They believe that such oversight cramps their style and subjects them to extra-constitutional pressures. One refreshing point of view expressed by a few academics was that such monitoring enhanced police effectiveness and accountability. In my view, a well-designed mechanism can do more good than harm to a modern police force.
It is in this context that exercises such as the New York Police Department's COMPSTAT (Computer analysis of Statistics) need to be reviewed. It pits the NYPD Commissioner against his Station House Officers in a periodic review of crime trends in the city. This is an open session at which select members of the community are also present. The meetings give insights into more aspects than how the police keep crime under control. This is a useful institution but its genuineness has been questioned lately by some former police officers and academics. The latter allege that COMPSTAT brings NYPD's officers in police stations under huge pressure and drives them to fudge statistics.
One distressing fact relating to COMPSTAT is that its sessions recently have become closed-door affairs in the face of constant public criticism of police methods of operation. Leading the crusade against distortions of COMPSTAT is Prof. John A. Eterno, a former NYPD Captain who teaches at Molloy College in the city. According to him, there is immense hierarchical pressure on field officers of the force and this influences them to resort to unethical practices. This is a revelation to many of us who had considered COMPSTAT a great innovation to cut down on crime. A forthcoming book of the Professor, The Global Policing Revolution's Naked Truths, published by Taylor & Francis is expected to be a thriller. Prof. Eterno seems to be a determined man who will not rest until he totally debunks COMPSTAT.
The icing on the cake at the IPES meet was the valedictory address by R. Viswanathan, the Indian Ambassador in Argentina. His analysis of trends in Latin American economy and society was amazing for its width and depth. His call for a multidisciplinary approach to policing went down well with the delegates. On the whole, the symposium generated some new ideas on modern policing. Faithfully implemented they could bring much-needed reforms to the way policemen react to modern situations, especially in a country like India where contentious politics has affected adversely professional standards of the police.
(Letters to the Editor should carry the full postal address)
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