‘A period of learning and evolving’: this is how IPS officer Ravindra Shisve, Joint Commissioner of Police, Pune city, says the pandemic year has been for the force since the nationwide lockdown was imposed last year. Excerpts from an interview with Sushant Kulkarni:
This time last year, lockdown was imposed and a period of high-risk intense duties for the police force began. How do you look back at this year?
It was certainly the most difficult and challenging period of our lives and it is not over yet. People have suffered losses that cannot be repaired. The police force is not an exception. But it was also a period of learning and evolving. Right from imposing curfews and movement restrictions across the vast jurisdiction, deploying the force in high-risk duties like hospitals, quarantine centres and nakabandi points, getting all the legal aspects right for these prohibitory orders — we as a system learnt a lot.
Issuing passes, closing entry-exit points, ensuring smooth movement of essential and emergency entities and later facilitating the movement of stranded citizens — while making sure that our personnel are safe — was a challenge. It was only possible because it was teamwork, not just the entire police machinery but also involving other government entities.
Imposing restrictions and filing offences against violators also led to friction. What is your take on it?
The unprecedented situation called for unprecedented measures. We had no choice but to impose restrictions and we kept making course corrections along the way. People were breaking norms — some knowingly, some unknowingly and some had no choice. Filing criminal cases and taking punitive actions was something we did not like but had to do. Apart from the sporadic cases, police-public interaction during this period is full of examples of empathy, cooperation and of better understanding each other as humans. We have numerous examples of police force helping labourers, students, senior citizens and also those of care and support towards police force from the people.
How was your coordination with other government entities — health department, district administration and civic bodies? Any learning lessons?
The inter-agency coordination was the backbone of our response to the pandemic. Those entities were also learning along the way. It was a period of hectic coordination meetings which sometimes went on till early hours of the next day. Differences did arise but were resolved with discussions and accommodating stances taken by top leadership from time to time. I can say with conviction that we all evolved together into a better system and we are still learning.
What were the key challenges and what do you think can be done better?
I believe that preemptive planning can still be done better. There is always scope to better use web-based tools for cutting down on physical interaction, thus further reducing the risk. One of the key features of our efforts was community policing — the people-centric policing effort with concrete people’s participation. Various community policing initiatives can be further built upon. Above all, keeping the morale of the force high was a key challenge. We relied heavily on continuous communication at all levels.