Police reforms -DAWN

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GOVERNANCE models are undergoing transitions across the world and policing is no different. In the latter context, police-public relations are constantly being debated. Although community policing covers the force’s relations with the public, reforms in policing inevitably set the tone and pace for police-community interaction.

‘Police reforms’ is the buzzword these days. From Asia to America, the role and position of police is being continuously redefined. A discussion on the topic is not out of place because traditional crime is mutating into crime through technology. Crime and criminality are taking a new shape and keeping pace with the advancement in gadgets and technology. Hundreds of years ago, human mobility and the flow of information were slow. Criminal behaviour has always taken advantage of the progress of the times.

There are essentially two dimensions to police reform. One focuses on internal systemic changes which affect the efficiency, performance and transparency of the system. The other covers expectations regarding public service delivery and accountability. As all police organisations tread their unique paths of evolution, the paradigm of internal reform gives them more power to harness change from within.

A new approach to policing can result in welcome changes.

This new approach to reforming the criminal justice system enables the police leadership to engage with methods which save time and increase efficiency in performance. Wherever technology has been employed for service delivery in policing, it has helped simplify processes and ensured easier access to a number of services. For instance, the process of acquiring character certificates or driving licences, for Pakistanis in the country as well as abroad, is less cumbersome now.

Technology-led policing is also needed to predict crime. Most technology, if employed, is currently being used for tracing and detecting crimes already committed. Police officers must shift their focus to controlling crime and disorder — scientifically. In fact, to prevent crime, a new discipline has been evolving since 2008: evidence-based policing. It is an approach that helps policymaking and tactical decision-making in police departments. The main emphasis is on statistical analyses, empirical research and randomised controlled trials with a view to adopting data-driven policing methods. Evidence can be used in a number of ways from enforcing laws to preventing crimes. This led the British Home Office to establish the College of Policing in 2012 and make use of crime reduction toolkits. Data is collected and analysed at the Centre for Crime Reduction and evidence-based policing decisions are made at the policy and tactical level. These can range from the effectiveness of CCTV cameras and hotspot policing to neighbourhood watch, victim-offender mediations and mass media campaigns. If there is evidence that the intervention works, the practice continues; if it does little to bring down crime levels, the practice is discontinued.

Fortunately, Pakistan police has been able to instal an evidence-based policing system in a few cities in line with the ‘safe city’ concept. With this progressive model, evidence-based policing appears to be the logical next move to bring the police nearer to their goal of crime prevention. Research and development units can be utilised to process data so that policy decision-making can take its cue from the available evidence.

Apart from its modern character, evidence-based policing is cost-effective. A lot of time, energy and resources can be saved by applying its principles to criminology. It offers a practical solution to the need to balance out public safety, community service needs, available funds and taxpayer expectations. It is a brilliant blend of science and community policing to control crime and disorder.

An added advantage is that instead of completely overhauling the system, which would be tedious and time-consuming, such evidence-based interventions can help achieve bigger results. Most internal police reforms are embedded in policy decisions and business processes and evidence-based policing can bring about positive change.

Change that is rooted in research positively impacts the outcomes of police work. It is needed to implement guidelines and assess processes, units and officers. Constant evaluation of police operations, mainly gaps and failures, in the recent past and in the present is imperative because it can connect research-based strategies to improve public safety outcomes, permitting the police to move beyond a reactive, response-driven approach and be smarter about crime control.

Dr James Martin, author of The Meaning of the 21st Century, believes that just like fire-proof cities were built in the 20th century, terrorism- and crime-proof cities will be built in the 21st century. To this end, evidence-based policing opens up a vast horizon of possibilities to look forward to and work upon.

The writer is a police officer.