Police personnel question people who ventured out in Kondhwa on Tuesday. (Express photo: Arul Horizon)
From keeping criminals off the streets to keeping citizens off the street — as the country continues with the 21 day lockdown period, Pune police machinery, which is enforcing it on the ground, is dealing with long hours of strenuous duties, and constant fear of catching infection along with instances of policemen using excessive force — a challenge to keep the morale high.
From two days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced national lockdown on Tuesday, police in Pune have been enforcing orders restricting the movement of vehicles and those banning the assembly of more than five in public places.
The steps were taken in consultation with the administration considering the number of positive patients reported in Pune district, which was one of the highest in the country in district-wise tally. A steep drop in the crime numbers under all heads has allowed police authorities to divert all their manpower and resources into coronavirus control measures, including lockdown implementation and assistance in contact tracing.
In all three police jurisdictions in Pune district — Pune City, Pimpri Chinchwad and Pune Rural — police staff has been deployed on the road and lockdown enforcement duties which are in 12 hours shifts.
These duties include the deployment of fixed checkpoints on the roads, patrolling duties in designated areas, duties at establishments like hospital and isolation facilities, and a large number of teams involved in contact tracing and monitoring of home quarantines persons. While weekly offs of the officers and staff are still being given, most of the leaves stand cancelled.
When contacted, Pune City Police Commissioner K Venkatesham said, "Our motto is very simple. Stay firm but polite. For the deployment at the fixed checkpoints and those enforcing lockdown, we have prepared a training module. Each police staffer deployed at these points is trained about lockdown rules and exemptions, ground rules of interaction with people, precautionary measures for their own protection. A special cell is monitoring all the deployments to ensure that precautions are taken all the time and there is an uninterrupted supply of masks and sanitisers. Our top brass is in constant communication with ground staff to make sure that they stay motivated. These are unusual circumstances and extraordinary measures are called for. We have also started awareness campaigns with 80 bikes with public address systems spreading message of social distancing".
A large chunk of Pune City Police's total strength of around 9000 is currently deployed for COVID-19 related duties. While almost all on-duty police staffers are bringing their tiffins from home, social local welfare groups are also helping police with arrangements of water, tea, and refreshments. Officials said that if situations arise, preparations have been made to arrange for food packets too.
Additional Commissioner of Police for Pimpri Chinchwad jurisdiction Ramnath Pokale said, "A big section of our total strength of officers and staff of 3000 has been deployed for the COVID-19 related duties. An additional company of State Reserved Force and Home Guard is being deployed in our jurisdiction. While there is little burden of other policing work, the long hours of COVID related work is also very strenuous. And there is constant fear of catching the infection due to public contact. In spite of all precautions being taken, there is always apprehension in the minds of policemen on ground. Keeping the morale high or to ensure that does not go down, is certainly a challenge. We are ensuring that all officers keep interacting with the ground level stall constantly, meet them in person, keep resolving issues faced by them. There have been instances where excess was used by our people. Action has been and will be taken in those cases. But we firmly believe "
An officer from Pune city police said, "Videos of policemen using lathi go viral, are highlighted. But the instances of policemen helping citizens, making sure people go to places safely in emergencies and doing difficult duties have no visual value. We are not defending use of excessive force and have also taken action. There is no alternative to strict policing and people may find in it harsh in some cases."
On Monday, a video shot in Sinhagad Road area in Pune was circulated on social media platforms where in a policeman was seen brutally beating bike borne persons on street with a baton. On Tuesday one more such video surfaced where a police officer in Pimpri Chinchwad jurisdiction is seen beating a young boy with a baton. Some cases have also been reported from Pune and surrounding areas.