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V. Balachandran is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat.

Forget UN standards, think of better policing

The so called UN recommendation of 222 policemen per 1 lakh population was taken from a Wikipedia paper.

Delhi police personnel waiting outside the then Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s residence on 1 February. PTI

leading national daily reported on 23 February 2014 that we have only 106 policemen for a population of 100,000 against the "UN recommendation of 222". Not too long ago, our former Union Home Minister also quoted "international" statistics before asking the states to recruit 400,000 more men. While recruitment is possible, training becomes a severe problem, since good officers do not want to work in training institutes. They only want city jobs with power.

How did we get the figure of 222? Our experts seemed to have copied it from a Wikipedia paper called "List of countries by number of police officers", which mentions the so-called UN recommendation. The cited reference is Page 135 of a UN paper, titled "International Statistics on Crime & Criminal Justice". Whoever had written this for Wikipedia, has not read this long paper (178 pages). In 2010, the Helsinki based European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control prepared this paper for the UN Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC), Vienna. The researchers studied worldwide developments in homicides, drug related crime, criminal justice system, resources and performance of different police systems. They admitted possible shortcomings in their statistics, since a "police force is not a monolithic entity with similar structures and tasks all over the world" (P 114).

Significantly, no recommendation is given on page 135. Instead, what is given on pages 135-136 is Table No. 1, "Police Officers per 100,000 population by country", listing 102 countries. India has 122.5 while Bangladesh has only 79.2. Kuwait has the highest with 1,065.2. This has to be read with page 130 which says: "police personnel rates per 100,000 population vary significantly between countries. The median is 303.3, the mean 341.8, the standard deviation 241.5." They make a significant observation in Chapter 6 titled, "Attributes of Criminal Justice System: Resources, performance and punitivity", which is "the assumption that more police officers will also produce a higher output must therefore be rejected" (Page 122). So where is the UN recommendation?

On the other hand, it was accepted long ago that policing depends on several variables like crime, law and order and traditional local problems. There cannot be any common universal standard. The New York Times analysed this on 5 March 1899. In a report, "Police and Population", they said that the strength of policemen varied from country to country, from one urban centre to another: "Rio de Janeiro, with a population of 700,000 had in 1892 a police force of over 2,000 men, equal to 36.5 for every 10,000 inhabitants. Calcutta, India and Kingston, Jamaica had a ratio of 42 to 10,000 and Havana, Cuba, at that time (three years before the insurrection) had 1,465 for a population of 220,000, the enormous ratio of 66.5 to a 10,000 population." The paper reported that Great Britain and the US had 10 policemen for each 10,000 inhabitants, while Germany had 8 to 9. But in big cities like London, New York or Paris, it was much higher: New York with 20, London with 24, Berlin with 25 and Paris with 28 for 10,000 inhabitants.

The International Association of Police Chiefs (ICAP), the oldest such police association in the world, which was founded in 1893, had also cautioned against adopting any common standard. While releasing the 2014 US Bureau of Statistics on the number of police officers in the US, they said, "Ratios, such as officers-per-thousand population, are totally inappropriate as a basis for staffing decisions. Accordingly, they have no place in the IACP methodology. Defining patrol staffing allocation and deployment requirements is a complex endeavour which requires consideration of an extensive series of factors and a sizable body of reliable, current data."

A paper submitted to the British Parliament on 25 July 2013 said that in 2010 England and Wales had 257.3 police officers per 100,000 population, while Scotland had 330.6 and Northern Ireland 402.2.

The US had only 229.7 in 2009. In 2004, even within the London Metropolitan Police, the ratio differed. For the city of Westminster, it was 859, since it is the seat of government, while the ratio was only 196 for Croyden. So it is high time we stopped talking about UN ratio. Instead, we should concentrate only on local issues for fixing police strength.

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