Educating the Police: Combating Internalised Bias

Varun Vyas Hebbalalu 7th September, 2020

Sensitivity training is not a priority for the Indian police (Source: Varun Vyas Hebbalalu)

The way people perceive each other in recent years has changed quite drastically. It would not be wrong to claim that the political climate across the world is becoming one of acceptance and a rejection of prejudice at a grassroots level. The advent of globalisation through technology and the moral policing that occurs across social media has also impacted the way people see each other. There is not a lot of slack given to people who maintain ideals that discriminate against a faction of society.

The paradigm shift, however, might not extend very well into the bureaucracy of institutions. The populace of a nation ought to view law enforcement as a safety net to ensure that justice is meted and the peace is maintained. The judgement of these officers, however, is sometimes skewed by personal bias and has led to undesirable circumstances.

The problem permeates law enforcement institutions across the world with cases such as that of George Floyd or the Jodhpur policeman kneeling on a person’s neck. Instances of brutality plague the way the public sees the police, the negative opinion of whom is perpetrated by social movements. In India, it was Justice for Jeyaraj and Fenix and in the United States of America, it was Defund the Police coupled with Black Lives Matter. The Hindu reported that in 2019, 1,731 people died in police custody. It would be unfair to attribute all of it to mistreatment on the part of the officers but is still too high a number to be excusable.

Not all law enforcement officers are inherently bad people, but that at a point where a sub-inspector in Maharashtra beat up a lawyer having assumed him to be a Muslim (according to The Hindu), some change is required. The sub-inspector was ultimately suspended, but it is unfortunate and pitiful that it occurred in the first place.

According to a study by the Common Cause and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) published in August 2019, 14 per cent of police officers interviewed in India believe Muslims are very likely to commit crimes while 36 per cent believed they were somewhat likely to commit crimes. Prison statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show that about 18 per cent of convicts in India are Muslim, which is concerning when juxtaposed with the fact that Muslims account for only 12 per cent of the Indian population.

According to the same study, an average of 16-26 per cent of officers interviewed believe that a lot of reported crimes of domestic violence, dowry, sexual harassment, and rape are false. These would all play a role in the way an officer would engage in a case, dismissing true victims or identifying false perpetrators. The NCRB reported in 2006 that approximately 71 per cent of rape crimes go unreported. The NCRB also recorded only a 27.19 per cent conviction rate for rapes in 2018, while 64.3 per cent of cases ended in an acquittal.

The insensitivity is exacerbated by the way the police officers are trained. The basic training for a constable as published by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) includes 34 sessions regarding ethics and morality and sensitivity training out of 914 total sessions which include instructions on how to file reports, maintain a database, and more. The amount of importance given to etiquette and sensitisation is nearly negligible and constitutes a meagre 3.71 per cent of the syllabus excluding additional drills.

As per sources on the basis of anonymity, this training is conducted either when an officer is recruited newly or is promoted from another branch. They have also said that follow-ups for training occur only for physical evaluations. This is substantiated by the Status of Policing in India Report 2019 wherein it was found that 4151 per cent of officers interviewed only received training in human rights, caste sensitisation, and crowd control when they first joined the force.

Repeated seminars and workshops being conducted is imperative in educating law enforcement officers on eliminating personal bias in the pursuit of justice. It isn’t even that police officers are even completely bigoted, it would appear that they are uneducated.

Repeated affirmation of moral values in these sessions would help align these police with the people more and ensures that a slip into bigoted ways will be reprimanded. This retribution could come in the form of a fine or a suspension for failing the seminars. Propagating social harmony and displaying values opposing discrimination could also carry benefits. That way, the tangibility of reward or punishment might help sink in over time that it isn’t acceptable to harbour bias.

The sight of a policeman ought not to invoke a feeling of dread or require a law-abiding citizen to be on guard. At the end of the day, the purpose of law enforcement is to make people feel safe.

(Sources: BPRD, NCRB, CSDS, Reuters, BBC, The Hindu, Deccan Herald, Al Jazeera)

Edited by Swikruti Kar

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