Before the advent of the British, there did not seem to be any organised police force in Assam, either under the Ahom Kings or earlier.The army as well as the various officers of the kingdom were responsible for the maintenance of peace and safeguarding the lives and properties of the people. Towards the end of the Ahom rule, during the reign of Kamaleswar Singha (1795-1811), an armed force on the British model was raised to serve the dual functions of maintenance of law and order and border defence. It was, however, not a regular and fully organised police force.
On taking over the administration of Assam, after the Yandabu treaty of 1826, the British also did not immediately introduce any revolutionary changes and the army was employed in the task of maintaining law and order. Army outposts were also set up at different places for this purpose. however, the high expenditure in maintaining a large body of troops reduced the number of troops to just four regiments by 1839-40. Steps were taken to increase the armed component of the Civil Police in the province. The necessity of raising a separate force under the civil government apart from the armed civil Police was also felt and the first unit of this new organisation was formed.
This was the 'Cachar Levy', formed in 1835 by the Civil Service Officer, in-charge of Nowgong district, Mr. Grange, to guard new settlements and tea estates. It consisted of 750 officers and men of different ranks, viz., Inspectors, Head Constables and Constables. Three years later, a similar body, called 'Jorhat Militia', was formed to protect the border areas against frequent border transgressions. It was also known as the 'Shan militia', as the recruits were mostly from the Shan community. Eventually it was merged with the 'Cachar Levy', which was subsequently renamed as 'Frontier Police' in 1883 and then as 'Assam Military Police' in 1891 and then again as 'Assam Rifles' in 1920.
After 1862, the British deployed regular troops in several parts of Assam to consolidate its occupation and a police establishment consisting of one Darogah, one Jamadhar and a number of constables was maintained at each district headquarters. The duties included guarding of the Eastern Frontier of Assam from the Brahmaputra River to Cachar. The Levy was a force of a semi-military nature. The men were poorly paid and the duties were arduous and often involving fighting. It is important to note that at the initial stage most of the recruits were from Bengal, as the local Assamese were not interested in joining the low-paid police service. The Government found that the Police force inducted from outside was not only inefficient but also oppressive, and therefore, decided to attract local Assamese youth to improve the character and efficiency of the police force. In October 1843 the Government upgraded the salary of the Darogah from Rs. 25 to Rs. 100 and there was a corresponding hike of the salary of other police personnel. This development saw the gradual induction of Assamese youth into the police force.
The Police Act of 1861 was introduced in Assam in 1862 and the Criminal Procedure Code was also brought into operation in the same year. Till 1874, Assam was administratively a part of the British-ruled province of Bengal and was administered through an agent of the Governor-General. The Police officers were home in the Bengal Cadre and the control and supervision of the Police Department were under the central administration.Following this, there were new administrative developments, and one such was in respect of law and order and prevention of crime. Under the Police Act of 1861, eleven Police Districts were created in Assam. These were : (1) Goalpara, (2) Kamrup, (3) Darrang, (4) Nagaon, (5) Sibsagar, (6) Lakhimpur, (7) Garo Hills, (8) Khasi and Jaintia Hills, (9) Naga Hills, (10) Cachar and (11) Sylhet. The police administration was run from Shillong, the provincial capital. The first Inspector General of Police was Chichele Plowden, who was a civil servant. The police was divided into four branches:
(i) Civil Police, employed in the districts for maintenance of law and order and prevention of crimes and other miscellaneous duties generally entrusted upon the police
(ii) Frontier Police, a quasi-military force entrusted with the responsibility of protection of the border
(iii) Municipal Police, created to look after the law and order in the towns, and was subsequently amalgamated with the Civil Police in 1882, and
(iv) Rural Police, a security force to handle the law and order in the villages.
While the Rural and the Municipal police occupied an insignificant position, the mainstay of the police force in Assam was the Civil and the Frontier Police. Civil Police was the principal Police force in the Province and its total strength in 1874, at the time of constituting Assam as a Chief Commissioner's province was 3,352. This was done in accordance with the decision of the Government of India on March 5, 1878 as a part of its reorganisation of the police force. The force was classified into two categories viz. (i) Civil Police for the discharge of ordinary Civil functions and (ii) The Frontier or armed Police for quasi-military work. Although the Frontier Police (which was, as stated earlier, renamed as Armed Police in 1891) was created in defend the frontiers, it was also used very often to assist the civil police. At the beginning of 1881, there were Municipal Police at Goalpara, Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Sylhet, Sibsagar, Silchar and Shillong but from the 1st April of the year, the Municipal Police excepting those at Sylhet and Shillong, were amalgamated with the ordinary Civil Police. In addition to these two broad categories, a new police force called "Punitive Police" was formed in 1880 under the Police Act of 1861 and was deployed in Sylhet and Goalpara to handle the recurrence of disturbances there. Later on it was deployed in the Khasi Hills. It was known as "Punitive" because it realised the cost of its maintenance from the erring inhabitants. Five years later, the Railway Police Force was created in April 1885 with one Head Constable and 4 Constables to assist the Railway Survey Party.
The Assam Police Frontier regulation of 1882 provided for the maintenance of proper discipline in the force and fixed the terms and conditions of service in the Assam Frontier Police. Further changes were witnessed in 1883 when the Frontier Police was re-organized to give it a distinct military role and the defence of the entire Frontier line was placed in its hands. The Frontier Police was organized into four corps which was stationed in Cachar, Lakhimpur, Garo Hills and Naga Hills. With the exception of these four districts the duties of guarding the Jails and Treasuries were taken over by the Civil Police.
The New Province of Assam came into existence in 1912. During that year, the formation of a new battalion for the North-East Frontier was sanctioned and a scheme for the re-organisation of the whole Military Police Force into four uniformed Battalions of equal strength was drawn up and submitted to the Government. A Finger Print Bureau was set up at Shillong. The Criminal Investigation Department(CID) was established in 1913 under the special Superintendent of Police and A.E.H. Shettleworth was the first to occupy this position with three branches under his jurisdiction-the Special Branch, concerned with Intelligence and extremist activities, the Investigation Branch, the Finger Print Bureau as already mentioned. Considering the importance and volume of work, the post of Deputy Inspector General of Police(CID) was created in 1935 and R.R.Cuming became its first DIG.
The Assam Civil Police Committee constituted in 1929 under the chairmanship of Sir Syed Mohammad Saadullah, after making a detailed study and seeking the opinion of various sections of the public, arrived at a few notable conclusions:
(i) It was felt that there was a wide gap between the police and the public, which made the police unpopular. The unhappy relationship was attributed to the frequent abuse of power by policemen.
(ii) There was widespread inefficiency and corruption in the police administration which could be tackled only by revamping it with the recruitment of educated youths;and to attract educated persons to the police department, the salary structure, which was very low, should be raised.
(iii) The training of the constabulary too had been neglected so far which affected the quality in the echelons of the police administration. Therefore, it was recommended that there should be one year thorough training of this class of police personnel ina well-staffed training school.
(iv) Fifty per cent of the subordinate ranks should be filled in by promotion after a departmental examination and
(v) the traditional red turban should be replaced by a hat and due emphasis should be given to a smart and tidy turn out.
Although some of these conclusions and recommendations received the attention of the Government, such as the upward revision of the salary structure, departmental promotion through examination and remodelling of the police uniform, there was hardly any visible step towards qualitative improvement of the police administration. The River police and the Rural police never received proper attention of the Government and remained as neglected segments of the Police organisation during the British Rule in Assam.
Additional duties thrust upon the Police increased enormously with the progress of the war. Control over foreigners, vigilance over lines of communications, encounter-espionage and anti-sabotage activities, and the maintenance of internal security were the main extra tasks of the Police during 1940. The dangers of the underground activities helpful to the hostile powers were met by the employment of a small Intelligence Staff. During 1941 a temporary force was entertained to meet the war demands both in the gazetted rank and the subordinate Police service. It also fell to the Police to administer the Motor spirit rationing scheme introduced in 1941 as well as the licensing of tyres.
The Assam Police faced an entirely novel set of circumstances during 1942. It became clear in the early part of the year that the triumphal march of the Japanese armed forces could not be stopped and the fate of Burma was hanging in the balance. The flow of refugees from Burma which commenced towards the end of 1941 gathered momentum. The task of requisitioning motor transport for use on the Imphal-Dimapur Road was suddenly thrust on the Police and Superintendents of Police were directed to produce a large number of motor vehicles for the transport of supplies, labour, etc., to Manipur as well as for the evacuation of Burma refugees to the railhead at Dimapur. With the rapid march of the war to the borders of Assam, it soon became apparent that the police force was inadequate to meet the new situation and various sanctions were asked for and received during the year for raising of forces for the protection of the railways, the guarding of aerodromes and other security duties in connection with the war. There was an increase in the Police force by nearly one half of its original strength.
During the cold weather of 1942-43, the stream of refugees from Burma began to dry up but the danger of infiltration by enemy agents increased. To combat this menace, security measures were further tightened and extra force was sanctioned. The preparation for the invasion of India by the Japanese forces created new problems of internal security which the Assam Police was called upon to tackle. The Naga Hills and Manipur became the main targets of attack by the Japanese forces and the Assam Police supplied officers and men to augment the local Police forces and helped in establishing intelligence screens in these areas. When the threat of the Japanese to the railway and other vital communications was at its height, the Police, stationed in the airfields bombed by the enemy, in the isolated pockets and in the threatened areas, remained firm. Apart from the actual dangers of war, the increase of incidental work of the Police was enormous and a high proportion of the time was devoted by the Police officers of all ranks in dealing with the Armies of the allies, both Americans and Chinese. Upto the end of 1944, the total additional temporary staff sanctioned was 5113. The cost of the Department rose greatly and a large part of the increase was borne by the Central Government on account of services rendered to the Defence Department.
The year 1947 saw the transfer of power from British to Indian hands. The preliminaries to Constitutional changes as well as the aftermath threw an unprecedented strain on the Police Force. Two important changes affected the Assam Police. The first was the transfer of the Sylhet district to Pakistan and second was the complete separation of the administration of the Assam Rifles from the Police. The retirement of a large number of service officers mainly British, the release of personnel opting for Pakistan and the absorption of those serving in Sylhet who opted for India were some other major factors which caused a temporary setback in the strength and resilience of the Police force immediately after Independence.
Several problems connected with the partition of the country kept the Police busy during 1949 and there was hardly any time for them to attend to proper training in professional skills and discipline and the control of crime. The force proved inadequate for the various complex problems facing it. Large gaps in the cadre of superior officers led to rapid promotions of inexperienced or old officers. Demands on the armed reserve of the state by other departments and the requirements of security on the Pakistan border brought to the fore front the utter inadequacy of the armed police strength. On top of all this, the appearance of the cult of violence propagated by certain elements made the situation menacing. It is gratifying to note, however, that inspite of all these short comings and difficulties, the Assam Police, by and large, managed to tide over this difficult traditional period without much of its reputation impaired.
The anti-terrorist operation carried out in 1950-51 with the help of the Army and the Assam Rifles brought to the surface both the weaknesses and the strengths of the Police organisation and indicated clearly what further measures should imperatively be taken to remove the deficiencies. To make the Police suited to the changed circumstances the Government set up a Police Reorganisation Committee in 1952 but due to financial stringency most of the recommendations of the Committee could not be implemented. Some urgent items were, however, pushed through and these included establishment of more Police Stations and Outposts, increase in the armed and unarmed police and construction of buildings. The Wireless and Fire Service Organisations were also reorganised during this period. The posts of Dy.IG, Range DIG, Armed Forces and Training and Dy.IG Administration were created.
The disturbed conditions in the Naga Hills arising out of the activities of the followers of A. Z. Phizo claiming independence for the Nagas posed a new problem to the Assam Police in 1956 and in the following years. The Police force in the Naga Hills had to be reinforced and a large number of platoons of the A. P. Battalions were drafted to cope with the situation. It is a matter of pride that the Assam Police gave a good account of themselves and proved equal to the task and as good as any armed force deployed in the area. When the Naga Hills district was separated from Assam in 1958, the Assam Police was withdrawn in stages but they continued to man the outposts on the Naga Hills border.
The strength of police force in Assam at the time of independence was around 8,000. From 3,352 officers and men in 1874 when Assam was separated from Bengal and placed under the administration of a Chief Commissioner to the strength of 8,000 at the time of independence is not a spectacular development. But the British left behind a disciplined force with a set of rules and regulations which provided the basic foundation of the present police administration in the state. After independence the police administration in Assam has grown from strength to strength. In 1980 it had a force of 40,290 and at the end of the 20th century its numerical strength was 61,263.There have been significant changes in the police administration at both the horizontal and vertical levels. Several new branches have been created in the post-independence era to cater to the needs of the state. Some of these newly created branches are:
Assam Police is adjusting itself to the changing circumstances and is working towards the ideal of a Police Force of a Welfare State whose efforts and service will be to serve the interest of the people and unlike the past, is no longer an oppressive arm of an alien administration. During the course of the past decades, the Assam Police has developed proud and healthy traditions of service and conduct and though it had its failure and shortcomings, it has been able to play its part with credit and distinction and its record and performance have been as good and as worthy as that of any other police force in India.