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As we wait for comprehensive police reforms, community policing can help secure peace at ground level
In the course of his speech at the conference of the directors general of police last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had spoken of the importance of community policing for preventing petty differences from flaring into communal conflagrations. Last Friday, the ministry of home affairs took a concrete step in that direction by advising the Uttar Pradesh police to institute community liaison groups at the neighbourhood level in Muzaffarnagar and to develop dispute resolution mechanisms to address evolving problems before they can threaten the social fabric. The ministry estimates that 70 per cent of communal incidents have their origins in petty issues and are preventable. Its enthusiasm may be a little misplaced but the fact is that the police do not have a sterling reputation as honest brokers, and liaison groups can make a huge difference in situations where the police are not altogether trusted.
By all accounts, this would develop a novel use for the neighbourhood watch scheme, which has been used in various countries to reduce the crime rate without deploying extra manpower. It would require the empowerment of the community and the beat policeman, the missing links in Indian policing to which the patchiness of police response partly owes. Its benefits would extend far beyond the immediate goal of controlling communal incidents. If he is accepted by the community he polices, the man on the beat knows much that the state needs to know. For instance, he knows child workers in the area, every home with a reputation for domestic violence, every landlord who has failed to report new tenants, besides habitual criminals. If a protocol were established to channel this information up the ranks, a more secure and wholesome community atmosphere could be created.