The initiative to install complaint boxes began as a pilot project in April, and was aimed at bringing citizens closer to the police, and in reducing crime in the northern neighbourhoods

A few days ago, when a policeman from the MKB Nagar police station opened a complaint box installed near a shop on Bazaar Road, he got the shock of his life.

Instead of notes with residents’ woes, what he got, was a snake. It took him a few moments to realise it was a toy, made of rubber.

The policeman’s experience was by no means unique. Every day, when personnel from various police stations open more than a dozen complaint boxes installed in crime-prone areas in north Chennai, they come across a range of products.

These include egg shells, rubber snakes, disposable glasses, used beedis and small stones. Some policemen have even found letters detailing neighbourhood gossip — who ran away with whom and what was going on next door.

“So far we have found around 20 letters in these boxes. But none of them are about criminal activities. Instead they are about petty quarrels and neighbourhood issues,” said assistant commissioner of police, MKB Nagar, Govi Manoharan.

The initiative to install complaint boxes began as a pilot project in April, and was aimed at bringing citizens closer to the police, and in reducing crime in the northern neighbourhoods. Boxes were installed in busy areas such as markets, important roads, large residential complexes and near commercial establishments. Residents, who were unwilling to go to the police station to report a crime, could do so by dropping a note into the boxes. Police were expecting complaints about gangsters, drug peddlers or any kind of crime in the locality.

More than a dozen boxes were installed in Kalyanapuram, SM Nagar, Nehru Nagar, Samathuvapuram, John Kennedy Colony, Mullai Nagar, JJR Nagar and Debar Nagar. These areas come under the Pulianthope police district that covers MKB Nagar, Vyasarpadi, Pulianthope and Kodungaiyur.

Each complaint box is manned by a police head constable and a special sub-inspector, and complaints are collected twice a day. The officers are then supposed to inform their inspectors, so action can be taken.

“The idea is novel but it will take a while for it take root in these neighbourhoods, where social consciousness among residents is very low. Also local residential and traders’ associations should be roped in to maintain these boxes. This will help prevent rubbish from being put in,” said N.M. Baskaran, 36 ward councillor in Vyasarpadi.

The idea for the boxes came from the successful ‘postal beat’ introduced by the Kerala police in Thiruvanthapuram in January this year, where pre-addressed postcards and envelopes were placed at public places including bus terminals, railway stations, bank counters and restaurants, for women to mail in their complaints and suggestions to the police.

The police in north Chennai however, said they were not surprised at the reaction the boxes have received, as the areas where they have been placed have low literacy levels, little social awareness and the fear of retribution from criminals is high.

Further, at a time when informers can alerted the police from a phone booth, these complaint boxes may not really work, they said. “More awareness about such initiatives is needed and frequent meetings between the police and residents should be held at various areas. This will deter criminals,” said S. Mani, president, North Chennai Traders Association.

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