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A Heavy Hand: The Use of Force by India’s Police: new Issue Brief

In any society, police are distinguished by their legal authority to use force to coerce citizens in certain situations. Given the high potential for the police to abuse force, checks and balances are needed to minimize the use of force and make officers accountable when they resort to it.

India has approximately 2.4 million men and women in official policing, and their use of force is regulated both by the laws of the country and by internal rules and procedures. But there is growing consensus within India about the need for police reform.

A Heavy Hand: The Use of Force by India’s Police—a new Issue Brief from the Small Arms Survey’s India Armed Violence Assessment project (IAVA)—examines the laws governing police use of force, the situations in which force is employed, the cultural factors that affect policing, lethal violence, and the prospects for effective reform.

The Issue Brief’s findings include:

  • Police are not sufficiently trained to deal with violence and challenges to their authority. Their salaries are low, with few perks, which helps foster a culture of corruption.
  • Reported incidents of police firing on civilians rose from 791 in 2004 to 1,421 in 2010. The number of civilians killed in these incidents fell, but reported injuries grew.
  • Indian law grants extraordinary discretionary powers of arrest to police officers.
  • 'Encounter killings' by police—in which faked confrontations are used to justify extra-judiciary killings—are often perceived as an acceptable response to crime or terrorism.
  • Incidents of excessive use of force by police are unlikely to be addressed until major reforms in the criminal justice system are put in place.

This Issue Brief is published in English, and will be made available in Hindi in the near future.

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