Professional - District Policing

Resourceful policing

A Popular Move
(India Today 1 - 15 June 1981)

Beat Box

    In sharp contrast to the bruised and battered image that plagues the police force in most parts of the country the police of Delhi's populous West District have of late been consciously turning out in their Sunday best and wooing the public in a way that with encouragement, could become a trend-setting move in cooperative peace-keeping.
    Kicking off with a widely attended oath taking ceremony on New Year's Day in which the entire staff of the west district police swore, "to help anybody in need." This year alone more than 100 open-house public meetings have been held to encourage a dialogue with the community and to evolve effective methods of law enforcement.
    The latest and the most popular move has been the setting up of the beat box system, a significant and wholly indigenous concept in neighborhood policing. In less than a month more than 100 blue and white beat boxes have mushroomed in the West District funded entirely out of neighborhood donations. These are manned for three hours everyday by the local beat constable bringing police assistance almost literally within yelling distance of the whole neighborhood.
    Effective Security: Backing this up is an offensive system of monitoring with the beat box constable being briefed and debriefed everyday by the SHO. More significant is the sense of security that the boxes have brought acting as deterrent scarecrows to prospective law breakers. Said Harbans Lal Khurana, a resident of Tilak Nagar, ’There was a great deal of goondagardi in this area before the introduction of the beat boxes. Girls were harassed and people felt very insecure. But things have improved a great deal now.’
    But the most important result of this system is the policemen's debut in the civic arena as an arbiter and peace counselor. Of the more than 800 complaints that are processed by the beat box constables everyday, several are of a nature that would draw a bank at the police station.

    Community members often seek out the beat box constable to settle petty disputes between squabbling couples or neighborhood brawlers. As constable Rameshwar Dayal of Mangolpuri resettlement area said, ’I have been solving out all sorts of problems - husband and wife problems, drunkards, women squabbling at the water queues and so on. We are like a sarpanch in a village and people treat us like that.’
    The beat box system seems to have paid off with a major psychological coup for the constables as well. His new found role as a community leader with the full backing of the neighborhood serves not only to motivate him but also does wonders for his sagging self-esteem.
    ’Clean Home,’ Said Kiran Bedi the dapper, rakish deputy commissioner of police, West District, and the moving force behind the experiment in cooperative peace keeping. ’Who is ready to help? I would, if I were a citizen.’ With a woman's home-making instincts, Bedi has set about putting her house in order with a zeal that has no barriers. ’The beat constable has started thinking that the beat is his home just as his home has to be kept clean, so has his beat to be kept clean,’ said Bedi.
    Behind the zeal is a conviction that any social scientist will share that combating crime and keeping the peace is an activity, which involves the entire community, and the police can only be effective so long as they enjoy the support and co-operation of the community. By making public relations the bedrock of peacekeeping and law enforcement, Bedi has scored where strong-arm methods have failed. But support is slowly gathering, says P.S. Bhinder the embattled commissioner of Delhi Police.  ’We have always felt that fighting crime is not just a police effort but also a public effort. Nowhere in the world are criminal fought by law alone.’
    Public support seems to be one reliable factor in this move. ’We have found that if the police take one step forward, the public responds by taking five steps forward.’ But given the paralyzing wage structure of the policemen and the rot within the law enforcement system, one crucial step which could transform the police from a goon force into a peace force might just be insurmountable.

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