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Posted at: Jul 3, 2015, 12:32 AM; last updated: Jul 2, 2015, 11:21 PM (IST)

Towards a healthy police organisation

In police departments, supervision is usually based upon a pattern of downward communication — from higher ranking members to lower ranking members. There is less opportunity for lower ranking members to communicate upowards
Towards a healthy police organisation
Boosting the morale of a force that is psychologically deprived and physically fatigued is tough. Supervision in police is based upon a well-entrenched hierarchy. PTI

The recent incident of killing of a senior police officer by his subordinate in Mumbai set the alarm bell ringing and made the police leadership to assess the psychological state of policemen in the city. Though such surveys are rare to police in India, Singapore Police Force continually sense the motivation and morale of their officers through the Organisational Health Survey (OHS). The OHS is a regular staff feedback exercise so as to ensure that officers remain passionate in their work. 

In the Police Departments in India, supervision is usually based upon a pattern of downward communication, from higher ranking members to lower ranking members, with less opportunity for lower ranking members to communicate upwards. Furthermore, in event of any crisis or incidents of malpractices coming to light, typical response of the senior officers has been to shift the decision making power upwards and thereby further curtailing authority at the cutting edge.

Psychological deprivation

The ironic fact is that the police departments have power, authority, influence, status, prestige, and privilege, but the policeman who symbolises power and authority to the man on the street may find little of this in his own department. Rather the rank and file members are often psychologically deprived persons who would like to have more say in what goes on in the Police Department. The basic paradox of police hierarchy is that discretionary authority tends to be greatest at the bottom of the police organization. This is where patrol officers apply laws, policy, and regulations to situations that do not fit neatly into the rulebook. Further, these discretionary choices are made in the field, removed from the direct scrutiny of senior officers. Their psychological deprivation, combined with long duty hour, lack of rest and little time for family and social affairs, can be a significant factor for workplace stress, leading to frequent police misconduct and resulting public outcry.

If we want policemen to respect the people they deal with, they need to be themselves treated with respect, trust and sensitivity within their own department. In the changed times, typical sub culture of parent-child relationship between supervisors and lower ranks of police officers has to give way to a more matured relationship of mutual respect, clarity and understanding of each other's roles in the department.

Like many of the government organisations, there exists a culture of mistrust and suspicion in the police organisations which is further reinforced by the nature of police duties. However, too much of mistrust kills initiative and is counterproductive for any organisation. The key is trust, but verify - and hold policemen accountable for results. Another practice that is strongly ingrained in the Indian Police is the culture of highlighting the mistakes, more to unsettle the subordinates than to provide them with constructive criticism. Even the supervisory inspection notes are full of negative clichés, with few remarks of encouragement for the field officers. Whereas in the new promising & emerging field of positive psychology, ''strengths-based'' approach involves focusing on the strengths - selecting employees based on their talents, and placing them where they get to do what they do best every day. 

By conducting positive activities such as Good Policing Competitions among police stations/sub divisions based on their yearly performance, police department can implement the priority policing activities in an energised and less stressful work environment. The competition activities could be chosen to lay emphasis on different aspects of field policing like- excellence in investigation & operations, traffic & police station management excellence, record maintenance and building community relations. 

Empowering frontline officers

Frontline officers' empowerment may offer significant advantages over the existing top-down police administration. To empower the front line policemen would mean- to give them authority that goes with their responsibility, allow them a say in the affairs of the police department, provide an organisational environment where they can recognise, care about, and tend to citizen needs. Japanese police underwent such restructuring in 1954 of its traditional paramilitary organizational structure and transformed its 'oppressive' image and is rated as the "best" in the world today. A spillover effect of authoritarian functioning is the extension of this pattern  on expression of grievances & suggestions from lower ranks in police. Police departments in India are plagued with an absence of a flexible mechanism by which communication from lower ranks to higher police officers can occur with the ease and frequency often needed. Grievances in police departments exist because of the absence of appropriate informal and inadequate formal mediation procedures between superiors and subordinates. Along with this, there is also a need to give policemen a formal mechanism for sharing with top officers their ideas about how to improve functioning of the police department, as some of the best ideas for improvement and public service come from the cutting edge employees. This would not only make the policemen feel more valued but also help in improving performance and in eliminating unnecessary rules and practices. 

Policing in not just a profession but a way of life. While the police departments are engaged day and night in activities that affect the lives of millions of citizens in this country, police officers should be able to derive great satisfaction from the realisation that they are contributing towards making the society a safer place to live in, rather than just working for solving cases or reducing crime to keep their job. This kind of inspired working was one of the key reasons for the unparalled fight of Punjab Police against the terrorist movement from mid 80's and early 90's. The young Indian Police Service officers who were in charge of the districts, putting their lives at stake and families at risk, worked for a bigger vision, a greater national cause and as a hope for the distressed citizens, in a seemingly hopeless situation running out of hand. What triggered them would also work for the police officers at the lowest rung who are the most important asset of the Police Department.

The writer is ADG Punjab

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