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This article is written by Sanjana Jain, Student, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi. This article talks about the role of the police force and police foundations during the COVID-19 pandemic and also about the new police rulings in the time of COVID-19.

Introduction

The last major pandemic that devastated the subcontinent was the Spanish flu in 1918 that took away the life of 15 million Indians. It was reported to have come in India through the Bombay port, the first ones to be admitted to the hospital with “the Bombay fever” were the seven police sepoys who were posted at the Bombay dock. Now again when India stops in track to break the Covid-19 pandemic chain, the police have come again in the frontline for the enforcement of the lockdown. 

The experience of police of crowd control, public order management, investigation of criminal acts, and deterrence of the law-breaking behaviour was utilized at the time of pandemic for enforcement of lockdown. The task of enforcing a rule compliant behaviour and tracing of people who are infected with the virus are the tasks which are required skills in which only the police have experience. With the extension of lockdown, the role of police in the pandemic also extended, like helping the poor and the helpless who need urgent help to reach the hospital, supply of the essential commodity, etc. Even in some cases, when no one was available to claim the dead body, police helped in the ferrying of dead bodies and facilitating the last rites. Also, during the lockdown police were seen with the megaphones, informing the crowd about the Coronavirus i.e. a job that security guards could have done, today there is a variety of tasks performed by the police that can be done by private guards under supervision.

Role of police during COVID-19 pandemic

The role of the police can be explained by the following areas, namely:

  1. Enforcing the lockdown through movement restriction;
  2. Assistance to the vulnerable during the crisis;
  3. Contact tracing and use of investigation and intelligence skill;
  4. First responder interface and personal risks.

Enforcement of the lockdown and maintenance of public order

As the imposition of lockdown brings big lifestyle change among the people, the police struggle to find out ways of implementing such changes. In order to restrict the spread of the virus across the country, police have taken steps to enforce lockdown properly from the first day of the lockdown on 24th March, 2020. The imposition of lockdown becomes difficult because of the closely connected community life, along with street cultures of everyday life, the climatic adjustments to a hot and humid climate where access to open spaces becomes a necessity and the panic of closing of essential services shop leads to the crowd on streets despite the stay at home orders. All this brought pressure on the police force to implement the restrictions as some started obeying the rules while others still remained or still remain defiant. In order to impose the restrictions, the police force was deployed across the nation in patrolling vans and foot patrols from the first day of the lockdown. The majority of police forces achieved success in the imposition of lockdown through strict access control and movement restriction without the use of coercive force.

In India police personnel right from the starting of a police career get socialized into a policing job role where public order management and crowd control functions are taken as the most essential skill in policing and this skill of police has come to use in the present case of a pandemic related lockdown.

Assistance to the vulnerable during crisis

Due to the lockdown, the increased presence of police on the roads led police to face misery, vulnerability, and poverty much more than any other professional group apart from the health functionaries. This was also experienced by the poor urban migrant workers who started returning to their village on foot and the distress of those workers who survive on a daily wage basis and have left with no source for food or other survival needs.

The restriction of any other actors on the field leads the police to take this responsibility and to address this vulnerability. To affect the movement restriction of the lockdown, most of the police forces started feeding programs for the poor either by becoming a bridge between the kitchens run by the government or at many places by organizing a drive-by police staff themselves for feeding the poor on the sidelines of their job. As more and more charities and public donations approached the police to distribute or engage in feeding programs, the police started partnering with other government and non-governmental agencies in relief work. As the public started seeing the police interface with relief work, their service orientation, and their connectivity with those who needed help, the trust of the public that police would deliver and reach out became stronger.

Utilization of police skills for public health outcomes

The police force has experience in investigation and this skill of police is required for tracing the people affected with the virus, this contact tracing has been and still is very important in this time of the rapid spread of the infective virus as the health sector struggles to manage its resources and reach. The police have done contact tracing by drawing the backward and forward linkages of the affected people, by decoding the pattern of catching the virus, and by identifying those coming in contact with the affected persons. In the investigation of contact tracing of the COVID-19 affected persons, the basic investigation skills of police have proved as a valuable resource.

In order to trace the contacts from the affected persons, the CDR analysis related to the call detail records of the mobile phones of the affected person, along with other cyber forensic tools have been used by the police force. To decipher contact histories and draw models of spread, it’s the cyber police wings and the district police setups that are working with the health professionals. To do contact tracing, police all over India are using their investigation skill, cyber forensic tools, and digital investigation skills. The role of police doesn’t stop at contact tracing; it extends to physically tracing these individuals and helping the health staff to reach out and convince the identified persons to be tested, hospitalized, or quarantined as per the health advisor.

First responder interface and personal risks

During the management of the lockdown, the personal risks faced by the police have come up through the physical assaults on them and through coming in contact with the virus during the course of their exposure to the affected people. The personal risks can be categorized into four types; firstly, the physical attacks that are faced by the police force while enforcing the movement restrictions. Many times, the police force has been attacked by dangerous weapons, hurled abuse, and stoned at a number of places. The second risk that police are facing is during the time of contact tracing and quarantining effort where the police are facing the anger of those people who don’t want to be hospitalized or quarantined as per the order of health professionals and have retaliated in a violent manner.

The third risk that police are facing is coming in contact with the people affected with the virus while accompanying the health staff for testing drives for distribution of quarantine order and dealing with defiant people who are affected by the virus but are not obeying quarantine rules and other first respondent duties. The risk further increases because of the nature of police work that is in teams, where achieving social distancing is very difficult. The fourth risk that police face extends to the families of the police staff involved in the management of lockdown. The police contact with the virus has increased the risk to their families also as many police services reported about the incidence of the spread of the virus among the police family members.

Role of police foundations during COVID-19 pandemic

Police foundations encourage departments to achieve their public safety goals and also are an avenue to accept both financial and in-kind support from interested donors. Therefore, they are an ideal spot to provide support to police agencies during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Police foundations can support local police agencies by:

  1. Purchasing personal protect kit, gloves, hand sanitizers, and hand sanitizing wipes.
  2. Supplying departments with hygiene kits and mobile chargers for round the clock operations.
  3. Providing funds for decontamination of police facilities and equipment.
  4. Arranging sanitizer stations for police officers.
  5. Providing housing arrangements for officers who are sick or need to isolate themselves from family.
  6. Arranging barbers and shoe shiners for officers safely so that they can maintain their uniform standards during this time.
  7. Promoting support for law enforcement through social media campaigns.

Overall drop in crime due to pandemic

In the time of lockdown what helped police was the fact that the roads were empty and there was zero traffic on major highways, which ensured a reduction in traffic accidents and fatalities caused by such accidents. Trespass and burglary also became a more difficult crime to commit in this time as anti-social elements are confined to their homes.

During the lockdown period, a drop in crime level has been found in major cities that generally report a high number of crimes. Between April 1 and 15, Delhi police reported a 70% fall in heinous crime i.e murders and rape as compared to the same period last year.  From March 25 – April 15 the number of crimes dropped by 79% in Chennai over the February 25-March 15 period. The police force can be proud that it managed to keep the peace during difficult times such as the pandemic.

Uptick in domestic violence cases

This period has witnessed a worrying increase in domestic violence cases, for instance, in April alone the Tamil Nadu police received about 2,963 calls on domestic violence. There are two causes of this rise, firstly most men are at home, either without work or in fear of losing their jobs, a survey shows that when there are greater unemployment domestic violence increases, the fear and insecurity of these men causes problems at home and unfortunately women become the victims of these problems. The second reason is the non-availability of alcohol in the lockdown period, which causes frustration among those who are habitual drinkers. This shows that pandemics leave women and girls more vulnerable to violence.

                    

New policing rules in times of COVID-19

From maintaining a distance of six feet from the victim at a crime scene, taking necessary precautions while handling dead bodies, disinfecting weapons, as far as possible granting bail for bailable offences at the spot, fresh guidelines have been issued to the police force by Delhi police commissioner S N Shrivastava, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

An 11-page circular has been issued which has detailed instructions on how precautions to be taken at police stations, micro-grouping, crowd control, protest sites, crime and hospital spot visits, and the role of SHOs and ACPs.

According to new guidelines, all police staff at police stations shall wear masks and gloves and sanitize their weapons, anti-riot gear, computers, and printers. The new guidelines also talk about the “micro-grouping of police station staff”, and how there shall be limited interaction between different duty groups to prevent infection. It says that there shall be regular rotation of each duty group in such a way that 15-20% of staff is on quarantine always for a fixed number of days and the fresh group is available for duty any time as per requirement.

Conclusion

For our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the frontline staff either in the police or health sector are great resources. The urgent need of this time is the realization of their value and worth and making rapid provisions for their safety and motivation. In order to maximize the efficiency of the police in pandemic management and at the same time keeping the police force safe and motivated, risk factors are needed to be framed into policies.

References


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