Dressed in a simple shirt and trousers, coupled with sneakers, Benedict Soares, 64, seems like any other jogger as he walks around the Bandstand promenade. There’s nothing to differentiate him from the many others who come there for a walk everyday, except a small yellow badge proclaiming that Soares is part of the citizens’ brigade responsible for Bandstand.
The Mumbai police have started forming citizen’s brigades in various parts of the city to increase people’s participation in securing their neighbourhoods. Hoping to secure some of the suburb’s most popular spots, in Bandra itself, in the past one month, the police have formed four teams for Bandstand, Turner Road, Reclamation and Shastri Nagar near Bandra station.
“The idea is to involve citizens for their own safety, improve the police-public partnership and ensure citizens have a sense of ownership and responsibility towards their area,” said Nisar Tamboli, deputy commissioner of police.
Residents are enthusiastic about being part of a squad and safeguarding their locality. “It gives you a sense of responsibility to know that it’s your responsibility to maintain the safety of your area,” said Soares, a retired hydraulic technician. “We [squad members] are all regular walkers at Bandstand so now, in addition to taking walks, we keep an eye for activity that seems suspicious.”
Like Soares, Archana Sharma, president of the Bandstand Advanced Locality Management (ALM), patrols the promenade in the morning and evening. “There are a number of issues we tackle while on patrols. We used to notice a lot of men loitering around, eve-teasing, some even chain-snatching. Now, whenever something or somebody seems suspicious, we inform the beat marshals, who take action,” said Sharma.
Another Bandstand resident, Minoo Patel, 61, a retired Air India employee, said: “Even if we are able to tackle 30% to 40% of such activities, our job will be done.”
However, the last time such a scheme was introduced, around eight years ago, so many controversies arose over the citizens’ misuse of authority that the police discontinued it.
This time too, if the police are not alert, the boundary between what citizens should and should not do will blur. For instance, Bandstand residents claim they will try and prevent couples from “behaving indecently”. “We will tell them to not do anything that embarrasses a parent from walking on the promenade with his son or daughter,” said Sharma.
However, Samad Shaikh, senior inspector of Bandra police station, who has formed the squads, said he would ensure this does not happen. “There will no independent action by these citizens. They will always be patrolling with our policemen posted in the area,” he said.
In areas such as Turner Road, Shaikh said such a team has already helped curb speeding, to an extent. “Many cars play blaring music and speed on Turner Road. Now, with our brigade lodging regular complaints, this has come down,” he said.
The police determine who will be part of these squads and do their own verification.