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Police Accountability--Lessons from Other Countries

NCJ Number
IJPA Volume: 44 Issue: 4 Dated: October-December 1998 Pages: 788-801
Arvind Verma
Date Published
15 pages
This article focuses on the existing three channels of police accountability in India.
These three channels are external (judicial review and Public Interest Litigation), internal (departmental inquiry), and other channels (supervision by District Magistrate, civilian bureaucratic control). A judicial review occurs when a judge entertains a public complaint and inquires into specific allegations. The judiciary is trusted, but the procedure is cumbersome, slow, and generally initiated by governmental directives. Lately, several innovative judges have initiated the “Public Interest Litigation,” where complaints to the courts by public-spirited citizens have been entertained by individual judges and inquiries have been initiated. The only institutional arrangement is the internal police department inquiry system that occurs when the controlling officer, upon receipt of a complaint, initiates departmental proceedings to inflict major punishment on the delinquent officers. The weaknesses of the internal mechanism are behavioral and procedural. Most inquiry officers are inclined to overlook the offense because of sympathy for the police officer or fear of the stigma of police misconduct. The problem gets compounded by the formality of procedures, delaying tactics of offending officers, and excessive workloads of normal policing. The District Magistrate, the highest-ranking civilian bureaucrat with some judicial powers, is used to make police beholden to “civilian” authority in order to have an external check on its actions. Police departments also have been placed under the civilian bureaucratic control of the Home Department in order to introduce an alternate avenue of control, apart from the police hierarchy. The independent judiciary is a separate institution to which police are beholden for all its actions. In practice these external controls operate ineffectively, if at all. The National Police Commission has been the only body to make an attempt to propose a policy framework for police accountability in India. But it did not present any sweeping changes except stipulating that certain serious police misconduct should be inquired into by senior judges. 23 footnotes, 5 references