Policing in Covid Times & Beyond
When the Covid crisis struck India, at a moment’s notice, our police force swung into action and came to the rescue of the government by maintaining order on the roads, taking care of citizen’s safety, standing behind the health workers and doing a commendable job in combating the pandemic,” said Mr Raghavan. He praised the Indian police for grabbing the opportunity presented to them and proving that they are a force to reckon with.
“In the days of my career, the police approaching the private sector for support was stigmatised. Today, fortunately, the situation has changed. Recently, I am told, the Maharashtra government quickly and generously accorded permission to the state police to seek support from the private sector for their efforts in managing the pandemic,” said Mr R K Raghavan.
He however raised certain pertinent questions. “Were our police equipped to handle the situation? Is it fair to expect them to carry out so many tasks and execute varied instructions like, for instance, enforcing closing down of shops at different times on different days and which led to the unfortunate Sathankulam episode that is under CBI investigation? How much manpower can the government provide to the police?”
He highlighted the shortage of manpower as a major problem for the police. “Out of two million police personnel in India, more than 75,000 go for para-military duty and roughly a million are available for protecting the common man,” Mr Raghavan said. He lamented that in India, people expect the government to do everything and indicated there is plenty of scope for NGOs and Private Sector to chip in and strengthen the resources of the police.
“Even though the police are the first responders for any public crisis, our police are woefully understaffed and heavily overworked,” said Mr D Sivanandhan. “Since 1945 to 1947, 36.000 police personnel have been killed and they have made the supreme sacrifice of laying down their lives in upholding their responsibility. Over 74,500 have so far been affected by Covid. More than 435 have died in fighting the pandemic, with Maharashtra accounting for 50%,” he stated.
On the roles that police play, he said, “They take care of law and order, crime control, crime detection, management of traffic during normal times and special festivals, VIP movement, pandemic management and so on.”
From peak fitness to depression…
Mr Sivanandhan elaborated the reasons for police personnel ending up with depression. “We recruit the best candidates with the best physique for the police force. But by the time they turn 30, they wade through multiple problems like having to work for 12 to 14 hours per day, irregular food habits, lack of leave or rest and unlimited stress. There are no rest rooms for women police while they are on outdoor activities. The police have an endless list of bosses including their superiors, bureaucrats, Press, TV, Politicians, Courts and Commissions. Anybody can pull them up. They have no right to form a trade union or any association. According to a study, many police have died between the age of 37 and 41 from stress induced illnesses.”
Thanks to the effects of Covid, there will be a spurt in property and credit card related crimes, cybercrimes and chain snatching incidents. Many crimes will be committed using smart-phone or technology as a tool, warned Mr Sivanandhan and indicated that the public must exercise great vigil.
His suggested a number of steps to strengthen the police force:
@ Police have to upgrade technology.
@ The Police Act 1861 has not been revised so far. Amendments have to be made to the Act, to reflect the current situation.
@ Non-essential arrests should stop. This will free the police of considerable work load.
@ The physical fitness of the police personnel needs to be improved through SIP– Systematic Investment (in Health) Programs.
@ The police should focus on ‘Team Building.’
@ Whenever new social laws are promulgated, like banning of smoking in public places, the onus for implementation falls on the police. On the one hand, there is shortage of manpower. On the other hand, the duties keep on increasing. Therefore, the government should do a detailed cost-benefit analysis before implementing new social laws.
@ The government can think of enforcing social laws through a separate wing or consider the requirement of additional manpower to the police when implementing new laws.
@ The government can include ‘’reaching out to the police” under the permissible list of activities to qualify for the 2% mandatory CSR spend of companies, through a proper mechanism. This could include activities like providing infrastructure, technology, equipment and health facilities to the police. This will lead to the police getting lot of support from private sector.
Mr Sivanandhan quoted from his experience of providing 30 state-of-the art gyms for the police in Maharashtra when he served as DGP there with the project undertaken completely with the public support. We say, “Doctor, Heal Thyself.” The police too as Defenders must defend themselves, he said.
Dr Meeran Chadha Borwankar pointed out that we did not remember the police before Covid and wondered if we would forget their role after the Covid days. According to research, she said that on an average, the police work for 14 hours a day and for 365 days in a year.
The Epidemic Act 1897 is now being used by our governments to manage the pandemic but its provisions are not known to many of us, she said. She argued that the 30% vacancy in the police force all across India must be highlighted and quickly remedied. “It may be shocking but the finding from a survey is that 37% of the police are demoralised and would not want to work in the department, given an option,” she said.
Academia must research on policing
Dr Meeran said that all police personnel undergo 6 to 9 months of rigorous training on recruitment. But, only 6% of them go through in-service refresher training. She appealed to organisations like MMA and ORF to collaborate with the police to develop case studies and train the constabulary on life skills, so they can stay motivated. She suggested that our academia should do extensive research on policing and criminal justice system in India and suggest improvements which can be taken up for implementation. “At present, there is very little research done in these areas,” she remarked.
Dr Meeran pitched for upgrading technology available with the police. “Now, police use their vehicles to take the accused persons to the courts. These can be avoided by switching to virtual mode. We need to scale up e-courts where trials can be done online and evidence can be presented on e-platforms. For prison inmates, we should provide timely medical support using tele-medicine. By these measures, we can greatly strengthen our police force,” she said.
In the Q&A Session, the panellists answered a variety of questions.
Do our all-women police stations serve their purpose?
Dr Meeran: It is now realised that the all-women police station is not a great idea, considering the ground realities. Instead of having a limited number of all-women police stations, all police stations should have on their rolls, women police, along with men.
Were our police equipped to handle the situation? Is it fair to expect them to carry out so many tasks and execute varied instructions like, for instance, enforcing closing down of shops at different times on different days… How much manpower can the government provide to the police?
How does our police force compare with their counterparts in other countries?
Dr Meeran: I did an internship under Fulbright Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship program and interacted for a year in the US with the police there and later for four months with the police of Australia. Based on my experience, I rate our Indian police as more disciplined despite their numerous challenges and that they carry out a much wider spectrum of duties and without any overtime.
Have we captured the lessons from the pandemic?
Mr Sivanandhan: Many of the lessons are converted as Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and these are now available in states like Telengana and Maharashtra.
If there is another major spike in Covid, are our police prepared?
Mr Sivanandhan: Covid came without any warning, yet our police have so far handled it admirably well. In Mumbai, they have created facilities for 75,000 beds. The outbreak in Dharavi was handled very well, and handling of Dharavi has now become a model for United Nations. So, there is no doubt that the police can handle any future spikes too.
How can we change the mindset of our people to follow Covid precautions without fail?
The panellists felt that we need to run more awareness programs, because, if we are not aware of the rules of the game, then we are going to lose more lives.
How can we improve the public experience of dealing with the police?
Mr Raghavan: If systems are designed in such a way that there will be less face-to-face contacts with the police, then it will lead to a better experience and efficiency. In that case, complaints can be filed online with proper supporting documents, which in turn can be converted to a FIR. But for this to happen on a scale, the police stations should have the best connectivity possible. They should be given top priority because police stations are, in fact, a symbol of governance.
How can we deal with the VIP culture with the VIPs expecting special treatment in our country?
The panellists pointed out that today thanks to public awareness, media campaigns and social media impact, many VIPs shun special treatment. They are concerned that if someone takes a photo of them demanding or being given special treatment and posts it in social media, it will affect them adversely. Mr Raghavan singled out the impartial role played by CISF deployed in airports. They treat everyone on a same footing and they have set an ideal example, he said.
What role can the Retired IPS Officers associations play in the current situation?
Mr Raghavan: They have very limited role to play as they have no authority. I may be hauled over the coals for saying so. But that is the reality. At the same time, there have been individual bright spots from the retired officers like Mr Julio Ribeiro, who are able to create an impact.
The police, having gained an invaluable experience in handling the pandemic, should document the experience; and create enough training materials and literature from the Covid lessons to train future police recruits and for posterity. If you don’t learn lessons, half-the battle is lost. n