First responders: The police story in the fight against Covid-19 in Kasargod
The “triple lock” containment strategy used by the police in Kerala’s Kasaragod district to contain Covid-19 could be the perfect example of how the expertise of cops in surveillance and investigations as well as their familiarity of an area and connect with the community can play an important role in managing a pandemic.
Local police is not only the first responder to any disaster but it is the key department for helping civil administration in arranging resources as well as maintaining law and order while continuing its routine schedule at police stations.
In fact, a research paper by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD), a think-tank of ministry of home affairs, written by 1982 batch Bihar cadre IPS officer Paras Nath Rai, says, “Police has a major role in disaster management. As police will continue to have the first responder role given its proximity to the incident site it has to bring about a change in its approach. It has to adopt disaster management function as a primary role and not as a side work”.
Rai argued that the local police must be “trained, equipped and supported with legislation and logistics so that they find themselves capable to support the victim in the golden hour”.
While response of most of the state police forces’ has been appreciated for the past two months in implementing the Covid-19 lockdown barring few incidents of violence against migrant labourers and misunderstanding the government orders on movement of essential items, Kasargod police’s strategy has particularly been touted as most effective.
One of the main features of Kasargod’s police strategy was to monitor the movements of Covid-19 patients and their primary and secondary contacts and for which they used an application – CovidSafety, and not Aarogya Setu.
The CovidSafety app has been extremely helpful in detecting violation of home quarantine by people as it alerts the police if the quarantined person moves 50 meters away from his location, according to Inspector General of Police and Commissioner of Police Kochi – Vijay Sakhare.
Kasargod was one of the first districts to have reported Covid-19.
Sakhare says ‘triple-lock’ strategy is a combination of professional policing techniques and innovative use to technology. The police used traditional methods to restrict movement of all people residing in the district by putting barricades, and human surveillance by deploying officers outside residence of patients, and several apps for tracing, delivery of essentials and medicines. Some of the platforms launched by Kasargod police include – CovidSaftey app for contact tracing, which Sakhare said most of the people downloaded; “Swaraksha Kasargode” – for free medical consultation and ambulances and “Amrutham” – for home delivery of essential items by the police apart from drones. The district reported 92% less cases by the end of April due to this strategy.
The Kochi police commissioner says the triple lock strategy has been scaled up to cover the new returnees to the state after the Centre and state governments have opened up the borders. He adds that “home quarantine is no quarantine” unless affected persons stay inside.
“The possibility of these persons spreading infection to other family members and the community is very real,” Sakhare says.
Delhi Police Commissioner S N Shrivastava says “No civil administration can think of managing an epidemic without the help of police because of its authority it has in the community. Be it implementing the lockdown or managing security of quarantine centres and containment zones, hospitals, movement of migrant labourers, supply of essentials and giving permissions, all these are the strengths of police. Managing a disaster of this scale while continuing the regular police work is a challenge too but then it’s our first duty to serve the people”.
Former Delhi Police chief Neeraj Kumar agrees with Shrivastava. “Police have to do everything in such situations despite the fact that they are most vulnerable to infection. The Covid-19 pandemic has also brought out the human side of the police”.