Police is not enough

The society and state will have to join hands to structure social controls

It was a bit amusing to see a TV anchor taking jibes at a police officer on the issue of one-wheeling on the busy roads of Lahore. The usual response to such media onslaughts is telling them how many FIRs have been registered against the offenders and how many people have been put behind bars.

The response of the officer was quiet unexpected when the anchor remarked, “who will correct them?” “The parents, the family and the society,” the officer replied. Was he pointing to a deeper malaise? Yes, the police are responsible for fighting the crime, but it is also a function of the society.

Every society has in place certain mechanisms through which it ensures the approved patterns of behaviour among its members to maintain social order. This is what we refer to as social control. Sociologist Gillin defines it thus: “Social control is the system of measures, suggestions, persuasion, restrain and coercion by whatever means including physical force by which society brings into conformity to the approved pattern of behaviour, a subgroup or by which a group moulds into conformity its members”.

Social controls are exercised by society in formal as well as informal manners. The informal control is the first layer where parents, family, neighbourhood, friends, classmates, teachers, colleagues and peers on the one hand and ideas, values, customs, traditions, religion, culture and public opinion, on the other, exercise their influence through a system of rewards and punishments. The rewards may have the form of approval, appreciation, promotions in a job, good grades, social popularity whereas punishments take the form of disapproval, shame, ridicule, sarcasm, criticism, poor grades, social discrimination and exclusion, etc. Formal social control usually takes the form of government action. Governments and organisations associated with them use law enforcement mechanisms and other formal sanctions, such as fines and imprisonment to ensure normative behaviour.

Without social control, the organisation of the society is likely to be disturbed. If an individual is effectively socialised, he conforms to the accepted ways from force of habit as well as from his desire to be accepted and approved by others. If he is inadequately socialised, he has a tendency to deviate from the accepted ways.

Such deviation may be acceptable to a certain extent. It is however expected that the informal social controls should resist the deviant tendencies. If they fail, the level of deviation rises and translates eventually into crime. It is at this point that the role of formal social controls, which include law enforcement and policing, starts. But law enforcement only deals with the crime and has little role in causing or preventing deviance. Its genesis remains primarily the function of society.

Let us examine how our society and its informal social control mechanisms are working to ensure approved patterns of behaviour. Are all parents meeting their obligation of raising their children into useful, law-abiding and responsible citizens? The answer can hardly be in the affirmative. Many parents these days seem to have assumed that sending their children to private schools and buying them computers and gadgets is enough.

There is a similar complaint against teachers. They are more focused on imparting information than education which is the prime objective of the education system. They increasingly measure their success in terms of has turn of good grades and ultimately well-paid jobs for their charges. In old times, character building used to be an equally important aim of the educational system.

The failure of parents, family and educational system to inculcate the normative values leaves a void which is filled in by a different set of values in which previously labelled deviant behaviours may attain a legitimate status. Under such circumstances the influence of friends, peers and colleagues is used more in favour of newly discovered values and deviant trends.

The new cultures and values have to be carefully articulated with the existing ones so that they are assimilated and internalised by the members of the society without allowing their negative fallout. Failing to do so can result only in breakdown of existing values, morals and overall social order. Unfortunately, as an important component of social control mechanism, mainstream media is not playing adequately playing its role.

In such a situation, blaming the police, or for that matter, other law enforcers for every evil under the sun is not warranted. Society and state will have to join hands to structure social controls, both formal and informal. In addition to criminal justice reforms, the state direly needs to come up with a strategy to strengthen the decaying family system to revive its cherished values which got the better of deviance and ensured normative behaviours.

The education system requires a massive revamping. Both the print and electronic media need a nudge to awaken them to their responsibility as powerful tools of social transformation. Nowhere in the world is policing alone expected to take care of everything, from morals and social trends to crime and deviance. Shaping the moral, ethical, and cultural fabric of a people which keeps the level of deviance under control is an important function of the society.

The writer is a senior police officer

Police is not enough: The society and state will have to join hands to structure social controls