Public safety and policing during Covid
Policemen are always in danger of getting infected by Covid-19, as there are no clear-cut guidelines or SOPs in discharge of their policing duties.
A week ago, police went into a tizzy when a Covid positive inmate escaped from the Covid Care Centre at Lamboi Khongnangkhong. The inmate was later rounded up from the Uripok locality and deposited once again to the Covid facility. Such incidents have been happening since the early days of the pandemic. Imagine, the risks police had to undergo in these times while carrying out their duties and responsibilities with regard to law and order and crime prevention which have been made more difficult by the safety regulations and restrictions of various Standard Operating Procedures SOPs announced from time to time by the government under the Disaster Management Act.
As there are no clear-cut guidelines or SOPs in discharge of their policing duties, policemen are always in danger of getting infected by Covid-19. Scores of policemen have tested positive for Covid-9 in discharge of their duties while certain arrestees have been tested positive, also. Even, employees of the courts where the accused persons were produced have tested positive. Now, an unofficial sort of advisory is doing the rounds to give bail at the spot to accused persons with bailable offences, while the suspects also have to undergo a COVID-19 test before being produced before a magistrate or remanded in a prison. In case of arrests, it should be done only in important cases. In case of non-bailable offences, police are in a quandary as there are no designated detention centres for such persons and depositing them in the prisons has become a risk to both other inmates and prison staff.
Police and security personnel are among the frontline workers performing duties to implement the restrictions in various SOPs and government guidelines for containing the spread of the disease. Since they have to interact with the public on a daily basis, they are likely to be more vulnerable to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). There is another important, but less visible, aspect of the Covid-19 restrictions, which is the social service function of the police. All throughout India, local police agencies are tasked with enforcing social distancing, but their activities are much broader. The police are a primary port of access to state services, and the SOPs bring officers into regular contact with citizens needing urgent assistance.
Police officers are also at the forefront of India’s public health campaign, providing information and essential supplies. How the police perform this vital function demands far more attention from researchers. Policymakers would do well to devote more resources and training to these activities. Situating the law and order and social service functions side by side broadens our understanding of police behaviour and performance, especially when it comes to managing complex problems. With regard to the conventional law and order function, there is evidence that the police’s drive to control public spaces can lead some officers to use heavy-handed tactics. How does one control such impulses or emotions? So, there is an urgent need to sensitise the general public to the exigencies of such a public health emergency and the nature of enforcement of such restrictions in view of the pandemic.