In a recent interview with Citizen Matters, S T Ramesh, former Karnataka DG&IGP (Director General and Inspector General of Police), had pointed out the challenges as well as the shortcomings of the police in enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown. Ramesh had opined that the police was able to reduce social contact but failed to keep essential services unhindered.
We caught up with the current DG&IGP Praveen Sood for his take. Over a phone interview, Sood said that the situation with respect to COVID-19 escalated so quickly that the police were caught off-guard. There was no specific protocol to follow, and no scope to conduct any orientation, drill or training.
Also, over the past few weeks, the police has been entrusted an increasing number of duties – from giving security to hospital staff, to being involved with food supply to low-income groups. Police is still learning and adapting, and will take stock of its performance and shortcomings once the situation settles, says Sood.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: Was the Karnataka State Police prepared for this kind of a challenge?
Praveen Sood: No, this is a different paradigm altogether. None of us would have seen this kind of situation where the entire world is on a lockdown. We are used to handling crime, law and order, maintaining curfew or imposing Section 144 that may last a day or few weeks. But this is unprecedented. There is no defined protocol to follow.
So like any other civic administration department, even we were caught off-guard in the manner in which the pandemic turned out.
Q: How did you orient your officers to handle the COVID-19 lockdown?
Praveen Sood: Please understand that things with COVID-19 escalated very quickly. Since the time the national leadership notified the pandemic as a ‘Disaster’, things progressed so fast that there was no scope to conduct orientation, drill, simulation, training or whatever. We had to quickly learn, consult and adapt with our counterparts in medicine and other services.
Approximate 80,000 police personnel were told to report to their respective stations. Leaves were cancelled. The messages and instructions trickled down from the hierarchy to each police station, and everyone just followed it.
Q: What is the present protocol in the deployment of the police force?
Praveen Sood: Police personnel work out of their respective jurisdictions.
Everyone needs our services:
- Hospitals want us to provide security to medical staff, transport grid, pharmaceutical stocks and staff, and guard their isolation and quarantine wards.
- Residents want us to keep those in quarantine confined.
- We have to ensure that food and essential supply chains across our jurisdiction are not affected.
- We have to ensure that lockdown and social distancing is maintained, but we also have to ensure that people are not deprived of their essential needs.
- Our police stations have turned into food zones, where our officials, along with volunteers, serve food to the economically underprivileged.
- We are co-coordinating with volunteers to identify emergencies or requirements for delivery of essentials. We had to channelise a lot of food donors.
- Cyber Cell is looking out for fake information on social media and other online platforms, and acting against people spreading misinformation.
Earlier, the above workflow came one-by-one, now the police has to deal with all of this simultaneously.
Q: To what extent has the police been able to fulfill these requirements, particularly in Bengaluru? Is there anything you’re particularly proud of achieving?
Praveen Sood: The proactive steps taken by the Bengaluru city police [for urging personnel to refrain from using lathis and to be courteous to citizens] have been referred as a model by the Karnataka High Court. Hoysala units have been deployed for emergency movement, especially for senior citizens. We are also very content in the manner in which people have cooperated with the police in reporting lockdown violators.
Misinformation online has been tackled effectively. Passes have been issued, and the process is getting further streamlined so that there is no misuse. We ensured the smooth movement of medical personnel, supply chain of public essentials, and encouraged the public to practice social distancing . Like I said, we are still on a learning curve of handling a pandemic.
Q: What about the shortcomings? What do you think needs to be improved?
Praveen Sood: Despite the threats they faced from the pandemic, and despite staying away from their families for long periods, police officials have shown a lot of restraint in dealing with the violators of lockdown, extending relaxations for essential movement. Also, we have successfully passed on the message to our force that more diplomacy and soft skills are needed in convincing people to remain indoors, and it has worked.
We also have remained very open in learning from our experience and suggestions, which will help us improve our enforcement of the lockdown. Of course, we have to settle down a bit before we technically list our performance and shortcomings.
Q: Many people are still unable to go out even during medical emergencies. And there’s a lot of confusion about the procedure for getting movement passes. Should there have been better planning and implementation on this front?
Praveen Sood: Passes have been issued for those involved in providing essential services. Police officials have helped getting emergency services to senior citizens like providing essentials or aiding them with logistics.
Like I said, this was not a drill or familiar scenario for us. Our role was required everywhere, and all our responses and enforcement procedures were based on the changing scenario of the pandemic. There was no precedence or protocol for a lockdown at such a scale. Nevertheless, we have done well.
Q: What about equipment and training to police personnel to handle the situation?
Praveen Sood: Our personnel stand at a greater risk of contracting the virus as they are in the frontline – at bus stops, airports, toll gates, railway stations, markets and other public hotspots. They may be conducting thermal screening, accompanying medical staff and even patients. The last thing we want is our force getting any COVID-19 positive cases.
So, based on consultation with state medical authorities, we tried to procure and equip our officials, at the earliest, with Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) like masks and sanitisers, so that they feel confident in executing their duties.
Q: Has any positive case been detected in Karnataka Police so far?
Praveen Sood: Thankfully, we don’t have any positive case yet and wish to keep it that way. [Note: This is as of April 11, the date of the interview.]
Q: The police too face severe stress while enforcing the lockdown for prolonged periods. Does this highlight the need for services like counselling for the police?
Praveen Sood: Yes, very much. We may need such help to de-stress our staff. Police officials have stayed away from their families for days together. Their families are concerned about them; they are only connected via mobile phones. At this point, all our staff are being motivated by the department to remain positive and do their job.
Q: What are your takeaways and learnings from this experience?
Praveen Sood: Well, nobody is yet an expert in dealing with this situation. We are still on the learning, unlearning and adapting curve. Probably, when all of this is over, we have to sit together, document all these events, and evaluate lessons, outcomes and capacity building. We have to definitely update our PPE inventory beyond a simple first aid kit, to protect our staff.
But, this exercise has helped us establish greater coordination between various stakeholders and public agencies. More humane approach in enforcement of lockdown has met with equal cooperation from the public.