02 Jun 2017 17:28 IST

The police story

It pays to have a large police force as it is a deterrent to crime, writes Prince Thomas in MicroScope

A few days ago, I came across an intriguing story in The Economist about the impact policing has had on law and order in Japan. Look at some numbers: the crime rate has been falling steadily for 13 years in the country. In 2015, there was just one case of gun-related murder; and overall murder and robbery rates in Japan are among the lowest in the world.

At the same time, the number of police personnel is increasing; from 15,000 police officers a year ago, Japan now has 2,59,000 of them. Tokyo’s city police force is a quarter bigger than its counterpart in New York. This high ratio of police personnel means that those in the uniform can now concentrate on even the smallest of crimes.

It can have hilarious consequences like when a woman had five policemen coming to her apartment to investigate how her knickers were being stolen from the clothesline. Or, like when a group of policemen waited a whole day watching if anyone would try breaking into a car they had filled with cases of beer.

In comparison

Now compare Japan’s situation with India’s. We might have the second largest, or even the largest police force in the world (the data available on the net is not the latest and some shows that China has the largest) but still, says a report by IndiaSpend in 2016, India is short of more than half a million police officers as on January 1, 2015.

Our police force also seems to be over-worked. To quote from a news report on the IndiaSpend study: “Up to 90 per cent of Indian police officers currently work for more than eight hours a day, according to a 2014 report from the Bureau of Police Research and Development. It said 68 per cent of police report working 11 hours a day, and 28 percent report 14-hour work days. Nearly half report that they are called to duty between eight and 10 times a month during offs.”

Also, the Government mandates that there should be one officer for every 547 Indians, but the reality is that we have one for every 720.

The consequences

Not surprisingly, India has among the highest crime rates in the world, and consistently features in the list of top five lawless countries. South Africa has the highest. Japan, on the other hand, competes with Scandinavian peers for being the safest country in the world.

Now not everyone agrees that a larger police force would necessarily reduce crime rates. In Japan itself, The Economist article says, many contend that the country is nearly crime-free because the Japanese are disciplined and “police themselves.” And that the police there solve only 30 per cent of the crime.

I couldn’t find a corresponding number for India, but in Delhi, where the police have recently started a recruitment drive for 15,000 constables, only 27 per cent of crimes are solved. Though the difference is just 3 per cent, it’s a dangerous situation in Delhi where crime rates, and numbers, would be much higher.

Bottomline — it pays to have a large police force as a police personnel’s presence itself is a form of deterrent to crime.