Evidence-based policymaking has gained momentum in the past decade. Data-driven analysis, both independent and government initiated, is gradually augmenting the discourse around public service delivery. For instance, public policy in health has gained from the data made available through the National Family Health Surveys, while education has been informed by the National Achievement Survey and the Assessment of School Education Report. Law and order, despite being the most critical public good, is absent in this new paradigm. Currently, the discourse on law and order is limited to official crime statistics and media reports. However, this is expected to change soon.
In February, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the rollout of a pan-India crime victimisation survey, the ‘All India Citizens’ Survey of Police Services’. The survey is aimed at understanding public perception about police, level of non-reporting of crime, quality of police response and action, and citizens’ perception about the safety of women and children. It will cover over 1.2 lakh households across 173 districts, making it one of the largest surveys of its kind conducted globally.
Typically referred to as crime victimisation surveys (CVS), they are a tool to bridge the gap in public data on crime and safety. They aid in estimating the actual extent of crime by directly approaching households. Suppressed crime rates are an almost universal phenomenon. Therefore, CVS can complement official crime records, systematically diagnose problems in law and order, and help develop solutions for better service delivery in policing.
Certain developed nations have been employing CVS for decades. One of the earliest known examples is the National Crime Victimisation Survey in the US, which began in the 1970s and was eventually institutionalised to complement the official crime reports released annually by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Another stalwart example includes the Crime Survey for England and Wales in the UK, instituted in the 1980s and now an integral part of their criminal justice system.
IDFC Institute conducted an independent CVS in 2016-17, titled ‘Safety Trends and Reporting of Crime’ (SATARC), of 20,597 households across four metros in India. The survey found that, for theft crimes, a higher proportion of victims approached the police to report the incident in Mumbai (32%) and Delhi (45%), than in Bengaluru (18%) and Chennai (20%). However, after approaching the police, a higher proportion managed to file a First Information Report (FIR) in Bengaluru (40%) and Chennai (41%), than in Mumbai (18%) and Delhi (32%). In effect, only 6-8% of victims of theft lodged an FIR with the police in the four cities. It is this fraction of cases that is finally reflected in official records, leaving the remaining 92-94% unreported. As police performance is based entirely on crime statistics, these suppressed crime rates are an incomplete measure of the delivery of law and order and safety.
The survey also asked respondents about their safety perceptions, an important parameter not captured by official records. A poor perception of safety has implications for a person’s participation in society. The survey highlighted that post 9 pm, 87% of people in Delhi started worrying about a female household member who was outside home unaccompanied. The percentages were lower in Bengaluru (54%), Chennai (48%), and Mumbai (30% ). By 11 pm the percentages spiked to 97% in Delhi, 89% in Bengaluru, 90% in Chennai, and 76% in Mumbai. Interestingly, by 11 pm, 95% of people in Delhi started worrying about a male household member who was outside home unaccompanied as well, followed by Bengaluru (83%), Chennai (84%), and Mumbai (60%). Poor perceptions of safety lead households to adopt precautionary measures to overcome the feeling of insecurity, which impose costs on households and workplaces. In minor cases, people may avoid certain areas at certain times of the day, but in extreme cases, they might withdraw from civic life and the workforce altogether. These behavioural changes are symptomatic of a lack of law and order and must be addressed to allow citizens freedom of choice and action.
Plugging the gap in public data on law and order is an important step for good governance, improved quality of life, and inclusive, market-based economic growth. The utility of CVS cannot be emphasised enough for an emerging economy like India. The data from CVS can provide the police leadership with a management tool for various functions, including targeted resource and budgetary allocations, informed decision making for deployment, personnel training, and performance measurement. The launch of this survey is a constructive step towards securing better public service delivery in policing.