Community Policing in India: Evolution and Various Models

Community policing of late has become an important pillar of law enforcement across the world. It is practiced in different forms and with varying results in different countries.

Community Participation

A community refers to a social unit in a geographical area which shares common values, cultures and concerns. Community participation or community engagement denotes some form of involvement of people with similar needs and goals, in decisions affecting their lives. Panchayati Raj model is a classical example of community participation in the sphere of local self-governance.

The community participation can be sponsored or self-initiated. Sponsored community participation is generally invoked by external agencies such as State, civil society organizations, NGOs etc. Self-initiated form of community participation entails internal mobilization of the community at the instance of a catalytic agent or to safeguard community rights and interests.

The idea of active people’s participation in developmental projects in India dates back to the launch of Community Development Project (COP) in post independent India. At that time its scope was very limited as it referred to persuading people to adopt innovative agricultural inputs and practices. With the introduction of Panchayati Raj institutions, it took on a different connotation and ensured people’s participation in decision making process. Gradually, the scope of community participation has expanded manifold and community policing is one such addition, though the concept of community policing already existed in India.

Community policing

John Angell (1971) coined the term “democratic policing” to describe community policing. Community policing simply put is a new philosophy of policing in which the police departments and the law abiding citizens work together in creative ways to address the contemporary community problems.

There are three primary elements of community policing as follows:

  • Community partnerships, which involves forging of partnership between the police and the citizens of an area.
  • Problem solving, which involves identification and redressal of problems that give rise to crime and disorder.
  • Organizational transformation, which involves transforming organizations to respond to community needs more effectively.

The following are the other salient features of the community policing:

  • People have the opportunity to decide how police services are to be carried out in the community. It allows them to have greater voice in addressing their concerns and enhances the overall quality of life in their neighborhoods.
  • It follows the principle of participatory process of development. It recognizes the people’s participation as it is not possible for the police alone to reduce crime and disorder that threaten a society.
  • It offers a different connotation to the role of the police in a society. It widens the mandate of police beyond the traditional focus through a personalized approach to address community problems.

Objectives of Community Policing

The main objective of community policing is to bring down the crime rates by improving public police partnership. It is aimed to solve local neighborhood problems by preventing and detecting crimes, restoring law and order and bringing down the crimes against women and weaker sections of the society. It wants to ensure proper coordination among various departments and agencies to ensure safety and security of the community.

Community Policing is a better alternative to bureaucratic model of policing because the bureaucratic model limits the contact between police and community. It also fails to provide equitable and impartial policing to all sections of the citizens. In this scenario, community policing offers cost effective and participative crime preventive approaches.

The prime benefits of community policing includes:

Community specific advantages
  • Improved immediate environment.
  • Empowerment of communities and redressal of their grievances.
  • Creation of positive attitude towards police
  • Prevention and reduction in the fear of crime.
Police Specific advantages
  • Easy detection of crimes and effective patrolling
  • Paves way for work satisfaction
  • Improved police-community relationship
  • Decrease in police citizen conflict
  • Better flow of information between police and community.

Evolution of the concept

The concept of community policing gathered momentum in many countries of the world in 1970s and 1980s. In recognizing the widening gap between the civilians and police officials, the countries like Japan, England, Germany, Canada, Singapore etc. were exploring the alternatives to their professional bureaucratic model of policing.

In India, community policing was prevalent in ancient India. In fact, the key feature of ancient police system was its community orientation. The references to police organization and specific powers of law enforcement with preventive, investigative and prosecuting duties can be traced back to Maurya era.

During medieval India also, a village chief called Mukaddam or Sarpanch used to work as a police officer and used to maintain law and order with the help of village community. At further upper levels, the Muhasil or Gumastha, representatives of Fauzdar, Khwaza and Musarif used to help the community policing.

During later era of Sultanate and Mughal era, the policing became secondary. The primary concerns of the government forces was militaristic and collection of revenue. The provinces were put under hereditary Subedars, who were responsible for administration including criminal justice and law & order. The provinces were divided into Sarkars roughly equivalent to today’s districts. A Fauzdar was responsible for law, order and suppression of crime and rebellion in Sarkar. A Fauzdar had 500-1500 soldiers under him depending upon the size of the Sarkar. Further the Chowkidars or village watchmen employed by the village community. In urban areas, chief of city police was called Kotwal.

During British era, the law and order passed into the hands of Zamindars as per changes made by Lord Cornwallis. A uniform police force was established with Darogah in every district. The Darogahs were made responsible to district judges. However, community policing had lost its whatever relevance.

In independent India, the law and order was made a state subject and some states tried to implement the community policing. For example, West Bengal had a programme called the Village Resistance Group to deal with dacoits in rural areas. In Gujarat and Maharashtra, community policing programme called Gram Rakshak Dal was established. Similarly, in Karnataka enactment of the Karnataka Village Defense Parties Act of 1964, which became operational in 1975 aimed to establish community policing. Some other prominent community policing initiatives worth mentioning was started at various parts of the country:

  • Janamaithri Suraksha Padhathi, Kerala
  • Friends of Police Movement (FOP), Ramnad district, Tamil Nadu.
  • Parivar Paramarsh Kendra, Raigarh district, Madhya Pradesh.
  • Community Liaison Groups, Uttarakhand.
  • Trichy community policing, Trichy district, Tamil Nadu.
  • Gram/Nagar Raksha Samiti, Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh.
  • Mohalla Committee Movement trust: It was established in Mumbai in the wake of Hindu-Muslim riots of 1992 and 1993. Mohallas or beat patrol met regularly to address variety of issues concerning the community such as concerns relating to health, education, environmental issues, issues related to communal harmony etc.