COMMUNITY POLICING IN A PANDEMIC

Authors:

Abhinav Akash

Mrunalini Srinivasan


Editor:

Anoushka Chauhan, NALSAR


Introduction

Community policing is a term used as a law enforcement philosophy that allows the officer to operate in the area in order to create a stronger bond with the citizens and engage with them to prevent crime and provide support during any disaster.[1] This philosophy is much needed in the time of the pandemic COVID-19 as to maintain the lockdown and the restrictions imposed on the citizens from roaming outside. It is always seen as the police are the first ones to face any crisis whether it be the pandemic or any gas leak, bombing case, or any kind of medical emergencies, they are the first to be exposed to situations and are not even compensated properly. But the interaction between the police and the citizens are very less, as the people are often scared in confronting the police this has affected the policing philosophy the most.


The current coronavirus pandemic has brought a bigger task for the law enforcement to restrict the people in their house, and in India they are not even allowed to use force (compared to some other countries that have implemented drastic pecuniary measures). They are ones who are exposed the most and don’t even have proper safety for themselves. This problem is not only faced by Indian law enforcement, but all over the world. With the complete shift in a world stricken by pandemic, security administration forces, such as the police, are going out of their way to help citizens, whilst simultaneously enforcing strict lockdown rules.


Law enforcement officers are continuing to go work each day, they are faced with enormous problems and changing rules for society and need to balance their own safety with the safety of the community.[2] The guidelines imposed in this crisis have also impacted their work and ways of investigation and interviewing the witness or talking to people, or interrogating someone.


Community policing has now become more important than ever as people now need to reach out to police for even the most minor forms of help, and police officers need to connect with those affected by the situations.[3] The community policing is not only going to help the citizens but also the law enforcement agencies by helping them understand the risk communities face in the containment zone, and help them in understanding the public safety response.


Community engagement proves more efficient and productive in circumstances of emergencies where collaborative help is necessitated.

Community Policing during COVID- 19

In 1918, 15 million Indians were affected with the Spanish flu outbreak which was the last and major pandemic that affected India. The flu was called ‘the Bombay fever’ as it arrived in India through Bombay Port, and 7 policemen who were at that time at their postat the Bombay docks were the first to be infected, and were admitted in the Police Hospital. Almost after a century, the new Coronavirus outbreak has affected more than 900,000 people in India, with the numbers on a spiking rise.


With these sudden drastic changes in the environment, that have effectively shut down entire economies altogether, the patterns in police patrolling and allocation have faced tremendous shit too. The policing during this pandemic has no specific guidelines and no well-shaped roles. Many policemen are currently risking their lives on the street to make sure that all the citizens stay at home, sometimes using force where citizens refuse to comply, or advising people who violate the rules, spreading awareness on social distancing, punishing people who violate the restrictions and arresting offenders. The police trace the travel history of people who do not follow the rules and send them to quarantine centers. With a very low police population (192 policemen per 100,000 citizens), policemen are even helping the citizens' most basic needs by providing them milk packets, groceries, during the lockdown, so that people avoid leaving their homes and handling the infectious virus properly. The police goes door to door to help the elderly and distribute food packets for orphanages and women shelters[4].


The Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) is one among the police forces of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) that initiated the efforts against the Coronavirus pandemic. The ITBP quarantine center in Delhi was opened to treat and test passengers who travelled across the world and arrived at Delhi’s airport. More than 1500 people were treated at the center. The ITBP created standard operating procedures for hospitals and good quality PPE’s and 3 layered masks were manufactured and distributed amongst the policemen. All the premises and vehicles are sanitized. The ITBP spreads awareness about social distancing and supplies food, groceries etc. to the neighbourhoods. All policemen are educated regarding the consequences of Coronavirus for themselves and their families. Precautions are given that include continuous sanitization and protocols related to isolation. Separate isolation centers are set up for policemen who are exposed to the coronavirus[5].


Globally, police enforcement is much more aggressive towards people who do not follow the rules. Some police forces are bestowed with the power to carry out drastic actions in times of a pandemic. Officers in Kenya are under investigation for shooting a teenager for standing on a balcony during a dusk to dawn curfew. In the Philippines, the President ordered the policemen and army to shoot anyone who causes commotion after 20 protesters were arrested because there was no food during the country’s lockdown. Many countries have their own way of policing during pandemics. But what’s important is how policing should work when it’s not clear on what activities are prohibited and why any activity can be risky during the pandemic. In New York, more than 1400 police officers were tested positive and most officers work on alternate days to lessen the chance of getting affected by the virus[6].


However, a problem with law enforcement arises. With greater population density in urban areas and cities, more police patrolling is warranted to implement curfews and secure lockdowns. With the bulk of the forces shifting to police the urban areas, with little left to secure rural areas, there could be an increase in vulnerability of the latter, making them more susceptible to crimes of opportunity and crimes of desperation, just as petty theft or even armed robberies. Due to rural areas being relatively unguarded, some cases have arisen in Australia and the US about water theft for agricultural production. Places where predominantly drug crops are cultivated might see a rise in those as police become focused more on surrounding urban areas. [7]


The policemen should be given validation and recognition for risking their lives and working for the government and for the people. In the future, Police training for aspiring police officers should be taught about medical emergencies and police responses towards such emergencies.

Conclusion

With a world order that is changing at a rate barely imaginable, it is imperative that we understand the role of the police as it changes parallely to the prevalent situations. A lot of the work of the police has changed drastically. The security administration’s focus has shifted from preventing crimes, to making sure that curfew and lockdown rules are obeyed. Almost always at the forefront of the pandemic, different countries have different approaches to security administration and the enforcement of their respective lockdown measures. While some are more regulatory in nature, others, like in the Philippines, seem to be bordering on draconian nature. Furthermore, the one aspect of security administration that must not be overlooked is digital monitoring, which is a substantial breach of privacy when thought of outside the lines of the pandemic. The effects of changing the course of police enforcement altogether must be considered with caution - as while on one hand it's necessary to enforce lockdown guidelines, it also increases the susceptibility of crime in desperate times. Despite all the nuances that plague the current scene, it is still equally important to recognize, acknowledge and appreciate the effort that the police put in by risking their lives by being at the forefront of the pandemic, especially the efforts of community policing, and the steps taken to ease the woes of the common citizen by going out of their way to help people.

[1] Mitch Lortz, What is Community Policing? Ever Bridge (Dec. 28, 2016). https://www.everbridge.com/blog/what-is-community-policing/. [2] Jill Sederstorm, Policing in times of Covid-19, Oxygen Crime News (April 23, 2020). https://www.oxygen.com/crime-news/policing-in-the-time-of-covid-19-how-departments-are-coping [3] Community Engagement During Times of Crisis: Covid-19 and beyond, Policing Project (May 20, 2020), https://www.policingproject.org/news-main/2020/5/20/community-engagement-during-times-of-crisis-covid-19-and-beyond. [4] Yashovardhan Azad, Policing in the times of Covid-19, Hindustan Times (7 April 2020). https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/policing-in-the-times-of-covid-19/story-sIzHkVt1hOJZhMWRl4n6HL.html. [5] Naina Pachnanda, Understanding the role of Central Armed Police Forces during COVID-19 in India, Invest India, (April 30, 2020). https://www.investindia.gov.in/team-india-blogs/understanding-role-central-armed-police-forces-during-covid-19-india. [6] Damien Cave and Abdi Latif Dahir, How Far Should Police Go in Enforcing Coronavirus Lockdowns?, New York Times (2 April 2020). https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/02/world/australia/coronavirus-police-lockdowns.html. [7] Vanda Felbab-Brown, How COVID-19 is changing police enforcement practises by police and by criminal groups, Brookings (7 April, 2020). https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/04/07/how-covid-19-is-changing-law-enforcement-practices-by-police-and-by-criminal-groups/.

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