The pandemic is wreaking havoc in the rank and file of the police force. According to senior officials, in less than a week, as many as 10 policemen have tested positive for COVID-19. Since Tuesday, nine police stations were sealed for 48 hours and over 200 personnel are currently in quarantine.
With the easing of lockdown restrictions, crime has increased, and the police have become more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.
“Morale is low. Every time we arrest someone, or question a suspect, we worry if today is the day we will get COVID. Uneasiness and fear are rampant among constables,” said a senior police officer.
In a recent case, the J.B. Nagar police arrested a man for sexual harassment. He was produced in court and remanded in judicial custody.
“He was asymptomatic, and we got to know that he was positive after the procedural medical examination,” a police officer said.
The entire station was sealed and sanitised, and staff have been quarantined.
“This puts pressure on neighbouring jurisdictional police stations, as they have to take over the cases until the station re-opens,” the officer added.
The XI Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate court in Mayo Hall was sealed for two days after a head constable from Hennur police station, who was on court duty, tested positive on Wednesday. According to a source, earlier in June, the police headquarters was sanitised and an entire squad of 24 personnel had to be replaced after one of them tested positive.
The question on top of everyone’s mind is how will they be able to fight crime if the pandemic continues to spread.
“With so many personnel in quarantine, the pressure on the rest of us increases,” said a constable pointing to the fact that the police are already short-staffed.
A Deputy Commissioner of Police said, “It is difficult to get all policemen on ground duty tested as the health department says that only symptomatic personnel will be tested. Though we take precautions and issue PPEs, it's difficult for police to wear them while enforcing the law,”
Measures to contain the spread
With the situation unlikely to ease, senior police officials have introduced a slew of measures to contain the spread of the pandemic. Personnel have been instructed not to detain or summon anyone to the station for questioning unless absolutely necessary.
While handling cognisable cases, which are serious in nature and need immediate attention, and when arrest is imminent, investigating officers have been directed to ensure that the accused or suspect is tested. They can be brought to the station only after the result is known.
This is in addition to the already existing protocol on the usage of masks, sanitisers, and social distancing. Senior police officers have taken preventive measures, like installing glass enclosures at every police station, to maintain social distancing from visitors. Personnel who are 50 years and above are not being deployed for ground duty.
In an effort to boost the morale of his force, Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao has introduced several measures, including a shift-based system where police personnel get a week off. “Our policemen are doing an excellent job enforcing law and order despite all odds. I am sure they will continue with the good work,” he said.
A welfare officer has been appointed at every unit to motivate police personnel. Stress management programmes have been introduced to ensure that police personnel stay fit, both physically and mentally.
Recently, Director General and Inspector General of Police Praveen Sood directed the police to consider the quarantine period of personnel as on-duty days. A senior police official told The Hindu that 67 personnel across Karnataka have tested positive of whom 36 have recovered.