In 2000 the Los Angeles Police (LAPD) was put under federal (i.e. central) supervision by a federal court for a period of 5 years, for its racism, corruption, inefficiency, police excesses, racial profiling and civil rights violations.

The US Federal Justice Department which had been investigating the LAPD for four years accused them of ignoring previous reform efforts, particularly the changes recommended by a commission formed after the public beating of Rodney King by "white" officers in 1991. The acquittal of four white officers involved in this case in 1992 led to mass riots in the city resulting in 55 deaths and injuries to over 2000, besides property damage worth $1 billion.

In 1997 the RAMPART scandal erupted, exposing deep corruption in the city’s "anti-gang” unit known as Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH), in its “Rampart” division serving downtown Los Angeles. Investigations into this scandal led to the dismissal of 70 officers whose perjury and falsification of evidence resulted in the overturning of 106 criminal convictions.

The city government also had to pay $125 million as compensation to the victims. Federal supervision was lifted only in 2009 after several reviews, including one by Harvard's Kennedy School.

Our Uttar Pradesh police needs to be brought under central supervision along the same lines. The trigger happy policemen are killing innocents with impunity after the “encounter policy” announced by Yogi Adityanath's government in March 2017.

The latest unintended victim is “Apple” executive Vivek Tiwari who was the victim of cold blooded killing on September 30. His colleague Sana Khan, the lone eye witness in the car, was illegally kept confined in her house for several hours. This was intended perhaps to hush up the case or give it a communal twist. Khan was also made to sign on a blank sheet of paper, as confirmed by the Uttar Pradesh Justice Minister Brajesh Pathak. It was only the public outrage that made the Yogi government take some visible action in the case.

The UP police have become communal, militarized and brutal. Sana said, “The cops also fabricated their side of the story and mentioned it in the FIR. I overheard them talking about my character and also that of Sir.”

Were the police trying to fabricate a communal angle? This aspect needs to be probed because of another incident a few days earlier. On September 25 videos went viral of a woman police officer beating a young woman in a police van in Meerut. She and a male officer were admonishing her for falling in love with a Muslim man. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) volunteers had barged into the Muslim man's house, where the girl had gone to study, accused them of “Love Jihad” and handed them over to the police.

The police watched as the VHP volunteers beat the boy mercilessly. This was captured on video. The girl later alleged that the police officer who was found beating her was pressurizing her to lodge a complaint of rape, which she refused to do. The girl’s family members also confirmed that the police had pressurized them into lodging a false complaint against the Muslim boy.

The UP police have also become “militarized”, meaning that they are equipped with lethal weapons much more than necessary. The militarization of civil police is the biggest threat to democracy. In all other Indian states, police constables in normal “nakka-bandi” (stop-and-search) police posts are not equipped with lethal weapons, unless officers are present. However on September 30 a constable was carrying a pistol, which he used to kill Tewari.

The Americans, who were the first to militarize their police, have found that equipping them with lethal weapons after 9/11 has led to a spurt in police killings.

Racial violence incidents in 2015-16 involving the killing of African-American civilians by police, and revenge killings of police officers in various American cities, have highlighted this lingering problem. The 2018 PBS documentary “Do Not Resist” by Craig Atkinson vividly brings home this point. In it retired colonel of the Marine Corps who served in Fallujah says, “We are building an army here, and I can’t believe that people aren’t seeing it.”

Similarly, the “encounters” policy followed by the Yogi Adityanath government has come in for sharp criticism from the media and human rights groups. BJP spokespersons have on TV debates become so brazen that they shout at others for defending the human and civil rights of those killed. It was reported that by August 2018 there were 2,351 shoot-outs resulting in 63 “encounter deaths”.

A leading national daily examined the record of 41 of these 63 “encounter deaths “in August. It found “a startling pattern to the FIRs lodged by the police — similar description of the sequence of events leading to the encounter, of the encounter itself, of the police response, and of what followed. In many cases, even the words and phrases used are identical”.

Investigation by a leading weekly in the same month found that these “staged shoot outs” were “a short cut for promotions”.

More alarmingly, it found that some policemen “could be implicating innocent civilians in false cases and shooting them down in staged confrontations in exchange for bribes and promotions”.

It is true that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is enquiring into these incidents since May this year, on a complaint by Citizens Against Hate, a group that alleges that 1,200 extra judicial killings have taken place in the state. The NHRC has asked the state's Director-General of Police to set up a special team to enquire into 17 specific cases.

In July the Supreme Court too issued notices to the UP government, following a request from the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, to order an independent investigation into the killings. The defence of the UP government is that magisterial enquiries were conducted in all cases.

Faced with such complaints, the UP police invited the media in Aligarh district on September 21 to watch a real “encounter” in which 2 persons, accused of the murders of 6 people, were being pursued. The local police chief said that the absconders who were being chased fired shots at the police before hiding in an abandoned building.

A police officer was injured and admitted to hospital. From all accounts in the media it was clear that they saw only the latter part of the “encounter”, that of shooting and killing the accused who were hiding. The mother of one of the accused later alleged that her son had been picked up the previous day.

“Encounters” of this type are specifically banned by the Supreme Court, in Extra Judicial Execution Families Association (EEVFAM) & others Vs. Union of India (AIR 2016 SC 3400) and other similar cases. The Supreme Court had said that it is not the duty of the police to kill the accused merely because he is a dreaded criminal. They should make every effort to arrest him and put him up for trial. “This court has repeatedly admonished trigger-happy police personnel, who liquidate criminals and project the incident as encounter… they amount to State sponsored terrorism” (emphasis added).

Under Article 355 of the Constitution, the Centre has a duty to protect the States against external aggression and internal disturbance, and to ensure that the Government of every State is carried out "in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution" (emphasis added). The latter part is very important. Human rights, even of criminals, are enshrined in our Constitution. The Supreme Court in S.R. Bommai & others Vs. Union of India & others (March 1994) said that the Centre has to intervene to take remedial action to correct any abuse or misuse of the powers by the state concerned, so that “governance of the State in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution is restored”.

I feel that our Home Ministry should immediately move the Supreme Court to permit bringing the management of the Uttar Pradesh police directly under central guidance, to correct their orientation so it fits into our Constitution, as in the case of the LAPD. If the Centre fails, human rights and civil rights NGOs should move the Supreme Court. If this is possible in the USA, which is the perfect example of a “federal system”, it should be conceivable in a Union of States like India also.

Vappala Balachandran is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat.