Impact of India’s overworked police force: Frustration manifests itself in offensive conduct, eroding societal image

police1A recent study, “National Requirement of Manpower for 8-Hour Shifts in Police Stations”, sponsored by the Bureau of Police Research & Development, Government of India, and Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad, has said that India’s cops are overburdened with work, leading to major health and social problems. Wanting Government of India to go in for a major recruitment drive, the study insists on having an eight-hour working time in shifts as alternative. Excerpts:    

Policing is a relentless activity, requiring efficient service delivery round-the-clock. This inevitably throws up the need for availability of staff on 24×7 basis. The Indian Police Act of 1861, in keeping with the objective of the then rulers to have an economical police force, mandated an “always on duty” work regime for police officers. In effect, however, it meant an intermittent 24-hour duty schedule. The workload was also not too heavy, expected standards of policing were not too exacting, and sense of accountability to the people was almost non-existent, in those days.

police2The ever-increasing workload, emerging job requirements as well as the environment of policing have since changed the scenario dramatically. But, the “always on duty” dictum of the ante-diluvian Police Act of 1861 still continues to govern the working hour regime of police personnel in the country. That police station staff in India have unduly long and irregular working hours is a widely perceived phenomenon. The need for shift working in police stations has also been widely recognized as a much awaited reform in police functioning.

The study involved extensive field survey including as many as 12,156 police station staff, 1,003 SHOs and 962 supervisory police officers from 319 police districts in the country, spanning 23 States and two Union Territories. These large samples were drawn from nine police station types, namely, metropolitan, urban, urban-rural mixed, rural, crime, traffic, women, tribal and others.

police3The analysis of survey data reveals an eyeopening picture. It brings out that nearly 90% of police station staff, across the states and across various police station types, presently work for more than 8 hours a day. Further, according to more than 68% of SHOs and over 76% of supervisory officers, staff members of their police stations have to remain on duty for 11 hours or more per day. 27.7% SHOs and 30.4% supervisory officers even reported that their staff worked for more than 14 hours a day. As if this is not enough, 73.6% of police station staff indicated that they were not able to avail weekly offs even once a month.

Though the SHO respondents were guarded in their responses on this aspect, yet nearly 60% of them confirmed that their staff were either not able to avail weekly offs even once in a month or could avail it, at the most, once or twice in a month. What makes the situation even worse is that most (over 80%) of the staff are commonly recalled to duty during their off time, to deal with emergencies of law and order, VIP bandobusts or other works. Nearly a half (46.7%) of staff reported that they were called in for duty, on an average, for 8 – 10 times in a month.

police4Health impact of long hours

The study establishes the resultant negative effects of the undue physical strain leading to cumulative physical as well as mental fatigue for personnel. Nearly three-fourths (74%) of respondents among police station staff reported that the current working hour regime led to various kinds of health problems for them. A large majority (over 76%) of SHOs also felt that the current duty hour arrangement was deleterious to health of staff.

Most of the specific health problems enumerated by the staff respondents in this regard fall in the domain of occupational hazards and can be directly attributed to long hours on job. Given the health care systems normally applicable to government employees, it could as well be that government expenses to treat these health consequences, along with the quality of man-hours lost due to their adverse effects, would cost the police organization much more than operating in shifts.

police5Social impact of long hours

The study also brings out that the current duty-hour regime is not found conducive by police station staff for attending to their personal/family needs and social life and commitments. That a very large proportion (nearly 80%) of staff has averred so, needs to be taken a serious note of. These responses of staff, cutting across ranks, all age groups and educational qualifications groups clearly bring out wide-spread disenchantment with the existing working hour regime. This should ring alarm bells. An equally large number (82%) of SHOs also either specifically agreed with this or preferred to evade the question.

All this, in turn, takes a toll on the morale, motivation and self-esteem of staff. The overall frustration manifests itself in the offensive conduct and behavior with the public by many of them, which leads to erosion of societal image of the police and alienation of the public. Since public cooperation is an essential ingredient of effective policing, all this causes an enormous adverse impact on the quality of police service.

police6Shift system of working as an alternative

To meet the requirement of efficient policing on 24×7 basis, shift system of working of police stations is an unavoidable imperative. An examination of the international scenario in this regard indicated that the modern police forces, the world over, have their police station working in shifts. In India, shift system of functioning is not recognized in the Police Manuals / Regulations of most of the states, the only honourable exceptions being Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tami Nadu.

The study attempted to gather the views and opinions of stakeholders at different levels of hierarchy about the likely impact of shift system, if introduced, on police functioning as also on the personal life of staff. An overwhelming majority (over 96%) of police station staff averred that 8-hour shift system would improve police work performance. A similarly large number (over 84%) of them further stated that it would not cause problems of any kind. Almost 90% of SHOs and more than 90% of supervisory police officers also expressed that shift system would improve the quality of policing.

police7Significantly, such positive perceptions in favour of shift system pervade all regions of the country, all police station types, as well as all ranks, age groups, educational qualifications groups and length of service of respondents. A vast majority (more than 95%) of police station staff and an equally large number (over 96%) of senior supervisory officers also felt that shift working would be more conducive for personal / family life of staff and their social commitments. 96% supervisory officers also opined that shift system would have a positive impact on the health of personnel of their police stations.

Such huge responses in favour of the shift system, and negative perceptions against the current duty hour regime, should leave no room for doubt that the existing chaotic work hour arrangement needs to be urgently replaced with an efficacious shift system of working with regulated hours of work.

police8Manpower requirement for shift system of functioning

Introduction of shift system would inevitably require some extra manpower, with attendant cost implications. However, the improvement in the quality of policing that regulated hours of work bring about, as established by our case study of the 8-hour duty system of Kerala Police, as also our action research experiment in five police stations of Madhya Pradesh and the case study of the discontinued attempt of Pune police, should make that extra cost a socially useful investment. This, coupled with heightened levels of morale and motivation of staff, would more than compensate the extra expenditure involved in augmentation of manpower.

Coming to estimation of manpower requirement for shift system, calculation for additional requirement of manpower to make up for extra hours of daily duty currently being put in by police station staff and the weekly offs foregone by them, arrived at in the study, works out the additional requirement to be 61% of the present sanctioned strength. This, however, does not take into account the time relating to staff being recalled to duty during their off time/days, which is difficult to calculate. As per the considered assessment of SHOs, elicited in the survey, the extra requirement for introducing an efficacious shift system would be 1.68 times of the existing sanctioned strength of police stations. This means an addition of 68% to the current sanctioned strength.

police9As matters stand now, the manpower sanctioned for police stations, per se, in the country is woefully small. Calculated on the basis of averages of NCRB data on classification of police stations by sanctioned strength, during 2013, the total manpower sanctioned for all police stations, put together for the entire country works out to the tune of 6,75,115. The total manpower strength of state police forces, as per ‘Data on Police Organisations – 2013 published by BPR&D, was 22,09,027.

That means the manpower sanctioned for police stations represents only about 30% of the total police strength. This ratio is highly unsatisfactory, given that police station is the cutting edge of policing. Augmentation of police station strength with some 3,37,500 personnel (50% of the present sanctioned strength) would take the ratio of police station manpower to a little over 45% of the total police strength in the States / Union Territories. This would be a more satisfactory state of affairs for ensuring efficient policing.

The extra country-wide requirement of just about 3,37,500 personnel for the introduction of shift functioning in police stations is by no means excessive. In considering the question of augmentation of manpower, it also needs to be kept in view that the country presently has a very adverse police:population ratio, with just 145 police personnel sanctioned for the policing requirements of 1,00,000 of population. With the addition of 3,37,500 more personnel, as suggested above, the police:population ratio would become 173 per 1,00,000. This would still be below the United Nations prescribed norm of 222 police personnel per 100,000 of population.

The issue of augmentation of manpower for introducing shift system can be considered from yet another important angle. The current strength of women in police is a meagre 97,518, countrywide, as per Data on Police Organisations, as on January 1, 2013, published by BPR&D. This amounts to only 4.4% of total police strength in the country. There is a dire need to enhance this ratio in view of the requirement of greater number of women police personnel for better policing in general and to deal with crime against and committed by women as well as children in particular.

Many states have already contemplated 30% reservation for women in police recruitments. States like Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Gujarat and the Union Territories have already made public announcements to that effect. Thus, it is recommended that against the requirement of 3,37,500 additional personnel in police stations for the introduction of shift functioning, all recruitments should be limited to women only. This would take the ratio of women police to a more desirable level of nearly 20%. This step would then serve twin purposes of introduction of shift system in police stations as well as enhancing women’s presence for better policing.

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