Relationship between the presence of police and the crimes

India has a population of 1.21 billion as per census of 2011. Against this population, it had a police strength of 1926247 as on January 1, 2017. During the year 2016, the total incidents of crime in India – cognizable IPC and SLL crimes – was 4831515. While thinking of crimes and their relationship with the police presence, the natural thought coming across is that the police presence must reduce the crime rate.

Understanding of this relationship between the rate of crime and the strength of police over the given population may be crucial to pressing the right triggers that can contribute in reducing crime incidents. This article is an attempt to decipher this relationship across states in India.

What data says?

While the economic theory suggests that an increase in the strength of police leads to a reduction in the rate of crime, a comparison of the two yields a somewhat confusing picture for India.

This article compares crime rates – crime incidents per lakh of population – based on crime incidents data from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) with the total strength of state police, both civil and armed – per lakh of population as well as per square kilometre from the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD). Years of comparison are 2015 and 2016, the last two years for which this data is available.

For 2016, out of 66 crime categories looked at, less than 50% (23 crimes) crime categories indicate an increase with an increase in the total strength of state police per lakh of population; these include crimes related to murder, kidnapping and abduction for ransom, rape, theft, arson, insult to modesty of women, unlawful activities act, narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances act among others. Rest of the crime categories such as related to dowry deaths, acid attack, sexual harassment, kidnapping and abduction in order to murder, human trafficking, dowry prohibition act and several others show a reduction with an increase in the total strength of state police per lakh of population across states. An alternate interpretation of the above analysis can be that the number of police personals is more where the first 23 crime rates are higher, but it would also mean that for rest of the crimes, where their crime rates are high, strength of police personals is kept lower.

Comparison of crime rates with the strength of police per square Km yields yet different result. More than 50% (34 crimes) crimes – Dowry deaths, Voyeurism, Injuries by rash driving, Forgery, Bonded labour system act and Transplantation of human organs act among others –exhibit increase and rest such as murder, grievous hurt, rioting, prohibition act, Gambling act and few others exhibit a decrease with an increase in the total strength of state police per square km. Analysis of 59 crime categories, looked at for 2015, yields similar findings.

This relationship shows variation across the broad crime categories of IPC (Indian Penal Code) and SLL (Special and Local Laws) also. Comparing the two, more IPC than SLL crime categories show an increase in crime incidents with an increase in the police strength; whereas more SLL crime categories than IPC crimes show a reduction in crime incidents with an increase in the police strength. This pattern is consistent across the two years.

Establishing a relationship between crime and police

From the data, it seems difficult to arrive at an inference regarding what kind of relationship exists between crime incidents and the police strength. Instead, it raises a pertinent question, whether police matter at all? Popular perception of impacts of police which lead to a reduction in the crime rate are of deterrence and incapacitation – more police presence deters criminals from committing crimes and arrests of criminals incapacitates them thereby reducing crime rates; another hypothesis can be that greater police force is required and placed in the areas where crime rates are higher.

However, an inconsistent relationship between crime rates and police presence does not lend support to these perceptions. Are there motivations to crimes which defy the presence of police or it is just a reporting bias? One interesting observation is the consistency of pattern in the relationship across the two years, 2015 and 2016. Total cognizable IPC and SLL crimes show almost similar relationship with the police presence across the two years. Number of crime categories showing positive or negative correlations with the police presence also indicates a consistency. It leads to an inference that either the police presence is not able to deter or incapacitate the criminals or there are other motivations which defy the presence of police or both.

Then there are trends within the crime rates which raise more questions regarding the motivating factors. Why Delhi has very high crime rate of rapes in both the years? Why more people in Haryana go for misuse of pre-natal diagnostic techniques than anywhere else in India? Why Uttar Pradesh and Bihar show a high rate of dowry death crimes across the two years?

Factors such as poverty and unemployment are said to contribute to and have been found by few research studies as causes behind crimes. A related argument can be that erstwhile BIMARU states should have a higher prevalence of a particular type of crimes due to their economic poverty. However, then what justifies a high rate of sexual harassment crimes in Maharashtra or a preference for boys to be born in Haryana? Perhaps there is more to it; across the two years criminals seem to take no notice of the increased police strength per lakh of population as well as per square kilometre in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

This article raises several questions. Answers to the questions posed, through a better understanding of the patterns in crimes and reasons behind them, can help in making the policing more effective.


This article is co-authored by Dr. Sanjiv Phansalkar.

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