Crime in India has been on a uptrend for most of its recorded history and over the last decade growth in crime has surpassed the growth of the population of the country. Nearly 66 lakh criminal cases were registered by the police in 2009 alone (the actual number of crimes occurring is perhaps much greater due to two reasons: the reluctance of rural Indians to approach the police, who are perceived as abusive and corrupt, and the police cursorily dismissing many complaints as being unworthy of investigation), placing India at number 10 in a list of countries with the most number of registered crimes.
The average Indian citizen, aware that the law and order situation in large parts of the country is not up to the mark, generally has a lot to say about the subject. No words are minced when describing the shortcomings of the police department. This is to be expected, given the fact that most, if not all, newspapers inundate subscribers with sensationalized stories of crimes of all magnitudes each day. It is forgotten that crime prevention is also a major function of the police and success stories in this area are, by and large, marginalized. Much less attention is paid to how the peace is kept: what is it that the police do to keep us safe?
For the longest time, crime prevention techniques in our country were limited to the traditional ‘beat patrol’: batches of constabulary patrolling streets in the hope that the fear of being caught red-handed would suffice to deter would-be criminals. Advances in science and technology have changed that. National security is now a high-tech field involving complex operations and the use of satellites, modern communication systems, high-resolution photographs, laser beams, night vision systems, computer technology, etc. The advent of CCTV surveillance and GPS tracking allow round-the-clock monitoring of potential target areas for criminals and the easy tracking of former criminals likely to relapse into crime, consequently lessening the load on the lower ranks of the police by a considerable amount.
Databanks of criminals are compiled and updated on a regular basis in order to facilitate checking for their complicity in crimes. The Indian police also use an automated fingerprint identification system, called FACTS, that uses sophisticated image processing and pattern recognition techniques to compare and match fingerprints, while also storing associated demographic details such as gender, region, and previous conviction history.
It would be unjustifiably optimistic, however, to say that the entirety of the Indian police is ‘modernized’. The technologies mentioned above are predominantly unavailable for use in rural India. Here, to make a complaint, victims of crime ordinarily must locate and travel to the concerned police station (this station-based complaint reception model is the opposite of modern police response systems where a central call center receives complaints, contacts local police, and monitors subsequent developments). It is modern police practice to store evidence in sealed containers, but the Human Rights Watch organization writes of how, in Himachal Pradesh, police had to store evidence in loosely tied cotton sheets owing to a dearth of alternatives. It is further reported that many stations lack even the most basic infrastructure, including electricity.
Nationwide, there are only 7 vehicles for every 100 policemen, meaning the police are often forced to use their own motorcycles, or to take public transportation, to reach the location of a crime. A not insignificant part of the police force is still equipped with First World War-era rifles and inadequate bullet-proof vests and is unprepared to face or use lethal force against assailants due to poor combat equipment and a lack of rigorous weapons training.
It has been articulated by the President of India that the country needs to promote investments in cyber and technical intelligence, communication systems and forensic capabilities in order to allow the police to keep up with the increasingly sophisticated technology being utilized by modern criminals. However, it is equally important that serious efforts be made to improve technological penetration within the police department. While the central government has made modernization grants to state police services since the 1960s, rural police maintain they lack computers, internet connections and other technological equipment necessary for good policing. It has also been observed that state governments sometimes fail to spend the modernization grant money they receive or fail to use the funds for long-term development in the optimal manner; when finally police do receive new equipment the funding necessary to maintain it or to train officers to use it dries up.
Objectively, the Indian police force is one of the hardest-working organizations in the world with policemen usually working 16 hour days to solve cases, escort VIPs, and on bandobast duties; patrolling religious processions and political demonstrations, among other functions. However, it is also one of the more ineffective. Only through the exercise of good judgment in the allocation of modernization grants, and the execution and consummation of subsequent modernization drives, can it hope to catch up with the police forces of developed nations, in terms of both sophistication and efficiency.