Covid-19: Pandemic changed police’s nature of work, relations with public

By: |
August 31, 2021 12:44 PM

Many people faced action from police, who themselves faced a huge task — the duty to prevent panic and maintain normality in unusual circumstances.

Covid PoliceThe general public’s opinion on police behaviour during the lockdown was mixed. (File)

Last year’s nationwide lockdown, imposed on a four-hour notice, was intended to arrest the chain of infection by putting strict curbs on movement. The lockdown was incredibly difficult for the community.

Many people faced action from police, who themselves faced a huge task — the duty to prevent panic and maintain normality in unusual circumstances.

According to data from a report by Lokniti-CSDS and Common Cause, the lockdown changed the nature of policing. Almost 9 out of every 10 police personnel (88 per cent) felt the nature of policing changed from normal times. Clamping a lockdown was a totally new experience, for which the country’s police forces were both ill-equipped and untrained.

The ‘Policing in the Covid-19 Pandemic’ study was conducted among 1,198 police personnel and 2,409 civilians in 19 cities of India’s 10 worst-hit states after the first Covid-19 wave.

Fear of police
The general public’s opinion on police behaviour during the lockdown was mixed. Over half or 56 per cent witnessed the police offer help; at the same time, 30 per cent people said the police were rude, while 36 per cent said they saw the cops use force against the general public.

According to 33 per cent, increased curbs leading to the police and the public clashing was a common sight. Around 40 per cent reported not to have witnessed such incidents, while 20 per cent witnessed such cases on rare occasions.

The police’s use of force in some cases resulted in the public fearing arbitrary state violence. According to the data, there was a high level of fear of the cops (‘a lot’ and ‘somewhat’ combined) among people. Among the biggest fears was fines (57 per cent), followed by police beatings (55 per cent). Around 43 people reported they were fearful that the cops would force them to undertake a Covid-19 test or detain or even arrest them.

Police view
Over 27 per cent police personnel said managing pandemic-stricken people during the restrictions was the biggest challenge. Around 45 per cent said they had to face confrontations while checking travel passes, while 42 per cent faced problems in containment zones. Confrontations at shops selling essential food items was 38 per cent and 37 per cent during food distribution.

Half the police personnel said they often imposed fines; while 24 per cent said they had done so on a few occasions.

Around 66 per cent police personnel said they let people off with what they perceived to be minor punishments. Around 34 per cent said they or members of their team had often done this, while 32 per cent said it happened on a few occasions.

About 7 per cent police personnel frequently used force, while 27 per cent said they had done so a few times. Around 12 per cent detained or arrested people, while a quarter said they had to resort to it a few times.

The police interviews suggest affluent localities offered them the most support, followed by middle class and then poor localities — quite possibly because these strata of society were the hardest hit by the lockdown and were, therefore, less supportive of police.

Crime dynamics
There was a substantial decline in crime rates as fewer people ventured outside. However, this data is only based on accounts of the police personnel and not the official, countrywide data that the government provides.

Around 79 per cent police personnel reported a drop in overall crimes. While general crimes such as robbery, kidnapping, theft, and murder seemed to have declined during the lockdown, private offences such as domestic violence against women and cybercrime showed a significant uptick.

The restrictions shone light on the interaction between the public and the police. Although the majority of people said the police’s behaviour was good, there were several cases of altercations and confrontations. The lockdown not only changed the pattern of daily life suddenly, but also marked a shift in the dynamics of crime and policing duties.

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