By Haider Kaleem
From day one, the police have been on the battleground fighting the situation of the COVID pandemic head-on. In this battle, there have also been falls. Many of these frontline workers who work late hours and in close proximity to patients or carriers of the virus have often contracted the virus themselves.
Here, CCPO Lahore, Zulfiqar Hameed opens up to Voicepk.net about the situation at hand and about the present demands of the police officers.
Q: Two policemen have passed after contracting COVID-19 recently. Can you tell us who these officers were and what has the Government planned for the safety of the police department during this crisis?
Zulfiqar Hameed: One of these officers was the deputy reader of SPDO Iqbal Town Circle, Ramzan Alam who died on May 15 and the other was head constable, Shams, who contracted the virus and died on May 13. They were hospitalized but we noticed that when a person gets infected with this virus, there is sudden organ failure.
Since the government has announced a special package for health workers who die in the line of duty, we demanded that the police also receive a similar package.
We have made arrangements to provide free healthcare for our officers from the police department’s welfare fund. (Actually) there is a large number of police officers who have tested positive, but there have been varying results. The station house officer (SHO) Raiwind, Saqlain Shah who is elderly, was critically ill from the virus but he recovered. But his treatment was expensive and therefore we demand that the government provide us with medical assistance for officers who fall victim to the virus.
Q: What are the challenges faced by the police to ensure that citizens are following the guidelines announced by the government?
Z.H: Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, routine work has been adversely affected. The police work closely with local communities and are dependent on human interaction for their work. Therefore it has been very challenging to perform duties and at the same time protect ourselves from contracting the virus.
The police have had to implement lockdown restrictions and SOPs and that was a challenge itself. For example, the police had to ensure that the mosques follow the SOPs that the government had laid out as a condition to keep mosques open. Unfortunately, people do not follow guidelines and therefore it was a challenge to impose government restrictions in mosques. We found ourselves more exposed and vulnerable to the virus as we had to police the city. We could not use force to implement the government’s SOPs for easing the restrictions on the lockdown and therefore we had to rely on warning people and creating awareness.
Q: Was it difficult for the police to work with any specific group in order to implement the SOPs?
I would not point out any particular group but generally be it the zaireen from Iran, travelers coming from abroad or the tableeghis, it seems very hard for people to mentally accept that their way of living has been altered.
According to our criminal justice system we usually use punitive measures but I think it would be unfair to do the same in these cases, therefore we had to find a middle ground because after all, they are patients, not criminals.
But on the other hand, if we are not strict about confining the tableeghis who have been quarantined, we risk them spreading the virus to other people.15-20 percent of them would not cooperate with us and it was difficult to deal with them. However if the authorities give out mixed signals about how to contain the virus, it becomes harder for us to implement the restrictions that have been imposed by the government.
Has the police noticed any change in the nature of crimes committed in the city? If yes, then did the police adopt a new strategy to deal with it?
Z.H: It was harder to implement restrictions, as people were fed up with the lockdown.
We were responsible for testing, tracing, and quarantining the tableeghis. This was a huge exercise and we were not given any additional resources to carry it out.
We were met with a lot of resistance from the tableeghis in Raiwind and therefore it was difficult for us to explain to them why we had to restrict their movement to prevent the spread of the virus. Now we have handed back control of the Raiwind Markaz to the tableeghis because all of them have tested negative for COVID-19. At one point though we had to declare the entire area of Raiwind as a quarantine facility.
What kind of cooperation do you expect from the citizens during such a crisis?
Z.H: It is natural that when people are confined to their homes, domestic violence will increase. According to our database, calls to our helpline 15 which records domestic abuse in Lahore increased by 25 % during the lockdown.
There has been a decrease of 80 % in cases of murder and almost 40 % in cases of robberies and theft.
In cases of domestic violence, our immediate response mechanism became active in collaboration with the Dolphin Force and the local police station. Wherever there was a cognizable case, it was registered and the regular legal process was followed.
We hope that as the lockdown eases, there will be a gradual decrease in cases of domestic violence.
This is an unprecedented time, but we have been lucky as compared to other countries in the severity of the crisis.
We cannot deploy a police officer outside every house, so people will have to voluntarily follow the SOPs because this has globally proven to be a more effective method than the lock-down.
As a police officer, I have seen many of my colleagues being infected and therefore I believe there has to be a serious collective fight against the virus. Moving forward we should adopt new alternatives to fight the virus in the long term.
Citizens have been very kind to us and individuals have donated protective gear to the police force. We have also donated more than 10,000 ration bags to families in need.
THE POLICE APPEALS TO CITIZENS TO VOLUNTARILY FOLLOW GUIDELINES WHILE EASING RESTRICTIONS.