As the number of patients contracting COVID-19 in major south Indian cities like Bengaluru and Chennai increase every day, police officers are among the frontline workers who are affected.
Chennai city till Thursday has recorded 46,652 cases of COVID-19. This includes 1,386 police personnel. The city in fact lost its first policeman to the virus on June 18. Mamabalam police station inspector Balamurali died after contracting the infection in early June.
The story is the same across most cities. Police personnel who are arresting accused, questioning suspects, on bandobast duty, and many others have been contracting the infection.
In Bengaluru, 395 policemen have tested positive for the novel coronavirus so far and five have died, according to the Karnataka police department. Of the 395 policemen, 190 recovered and 205 of them are still in isolation.
According to Bengaluru Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao, the Bengaluru Police have been susceptible to getting infected as they are on the streets every day and come into contact with tens of people without knowing whether they have COVID-19 or not.
â€śThe infection among police is happening even though safety protocols are being followed and policemen are constantly advised on how to maintain physical distance, and take precautionary measures,â€ť Bhaskar Rao said.
So far, 20 police stations in the city have had to be shut for sanitisation for a span of three to four days after several personnel tested positive.
What precautions are being taken
According to a senior police officer in Bengaluru, every morning the administrative wing puts out a duty charter, which is shared with each employee in the police force. â€śHere we talk about how to avoid getting the infection, how to maintain hygiene and how to handle a situation if they have symptoms of COVID-19,â€ť the officer said.
An officer of the ADGP rank in Chennai told TNM, "We have been giving all police officials two masks so that they can wash and wear alternately. In addition to this they are all being given gloves. If they have to go find and bring in an accused, personal protective gear is given to the officials, including the full body suits."
When TNM spoke to a Chennai city inspector he said that all stations had an unlimited number of gloves and masks.
"We initially gave those who stepped out two masks and gloves. There are about 30 policemen in three shifts and when they need more they can always come to the station and take extra gear," he said. "In addition to this every week their supply of sanitiser is replenished and all police personnel get the transparent face shield that covers your complete face," he added.
Lack of PPE kits for police personnel
In Bengaluru too, police stations have a regular supply of sanitisers, hand wash and masks. However, a senior police officer in the city said that PPE kits are not given to all police personnel, and the situation is similar in Chennai too. An inspector in Chennai who TNM spoke to, denied that PPE suits have been given to police personnel when they are out to arrest accused persons. They however do conduct COVID-19 tests for people they apprehend, just like the police in Bengaluru.
"In Vadapalani station, everyone was wearing masks and gloves when the accused was brought in. Despite that they got infected since they were near the accused for a long time," said the inspector. "In 90% of the cases now we have stopped bringing the accused to the station. If it is completely unavoidable, we wear all precautionary gear. If the accused is being taken to the magistrate the next day, we ensure he takes a bath," he added.
In addition to this, the Director General of police JK Tripathy, said police sources, has given other guidelines for arrest.
"Before we apprehend the accused, we have to give him gloves and a mask. We cannot directly touch an accused and can only do so if we are wearing gloves," said the inspector. "All interrogation has to be done with six feet of physical distance," he added.
In Bengaluru, the HAL Police Station was shut down for sanitisation in June after 12 personnel including an inspector, one sub inspector, four head constables, a woman constable and seven staffers tested positive. â€śWe had masks, sanitisers, hand wash and were always briefed about safety measures. The last time we arrested an accused and got him tested, it was negative. But we come into contact with so many people, it is hard to say. There is always a risk. We have families too and are scared for them,â€ť a police officer from the HAL police station said.
The Bengaluru Police is now engaging in confidence building measures among its personnel as they fear for the wellbeing of their families. DCP South Rohini Sepat holds regular video calls with police personnel who are in COVID-19 Care Centres and COVID-19 Hospitals to find out about their well being and talk to them about the importance of the police force being on the frontlines.
â€śWe cannot help the work we do, we are trying to build confidence among those police personnel who are still on the streets and fear for their families,â€ť DCP (Admin) Hemant Nimbalkar said.