Good cop, bad cop online: Interrogations go digital
Law enforcement in times of the Covid-19 pandemic has often been demanding and unpredictable and sometimes ventured into the realm of the unknown.Updated: Jul 11, 2020 07:05 IST
It is 4 in the afternoon and two men arrested for snatching are brought to a room inside a police station in central Delhi. They are wanted in different cases of snatching and robbery in different police precincts.
The two are asked to be seated and prepare for a video conference with a team of officers. On a computer screen are small square-shaped windows of police officers, who are ready to begin what is called a virtual interrogation.
Law enforcement in times of the Covid-19 pandemic has often been demanding and unpredictable and sometimes ventured into the realm of the unknown. In the first two months of the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the disease, they were on the streets to ensure that people were following social distancing norms, and feeding the homeless and migrant workers, or in the police stations stitching face masks.
Now that lockdown norms have been gradually eased and criminals have returned to their line of work, the police have introduced the concept of virtual interrogation, questioning criminals and witnesses over video conferencing to minimise physical contact with them. Senior officers have also started interacting with victims over video link.
Delhi police officers say that in almost all cases, barring a few in which the suspects were hardcore criminals or weren’t forthcoming enough, they have adopted virtual interrogation. The move is working, senior Delhi police officers said, because unlike in the pre-Covid-19 days, top officers need not depend on juniors and can join questioning at the click of a button from their offices.
It started last month, when 11 policemen tested Covid-19 positive after coming in contact with a carrier in central Delhi’s Anand Parbat. During a virtual meeting of senior officers at the police headquarters and district police chiefs from their offices across the city, an officer informed his bosses that the men had been infected after coming in contact with a 37-year-old man who had murdered his life.
The top officers then decided that since they were already holding law and order meetings over video conference, they could do digitally question suspects and witnesses too.
Joint commissioner of police (central range) Suvashish Chaudhary said virtual interrogation offers many benefits and is working well. “It saves time and ensures social distancing. Suppose we have arrested a snatcher, then the investigating officer (usually junior rank officers such as sub-inspectors) may ask him about his past cases. Someone like me is more interested in why that snatchers does the crime in a specific place or how he identifies his victim. Many times, depending on the profile of the criminal, we come together and hold joint virtual interrogation sessions.”
Police said they had come across many cases where arrested suspects were from containment zones. Until July 9, Delhi had 562 containment zones across the city, where more than 350,000 residents live. The police have arrested more than 100 such residents from across the city in cases of snatching, robbery, theft and burglary. Such suspects were subsequently interrogated by senior officers virtually after initial questioning by juniors.
Chaudhary said virtual interrogation was the best option when the suspects are from containment zones.
“On June 8, our local police had arrested six men for snatching and robbery. Some of them such as Gopesh alias Gopi, 23, and Ashim alias Aslam, 25, were from containment zones in Anand Parbat. Instead of visiting the station and crowding to question those men, my seniors and I interrogated those men virtually. We managed to quiz them thoroughly and found their involvement in over 15 cases.”
In the last two months, senior police have also started meeting victims and complainants over video conference. Until the lockdown, the meetings would take place at the offices of the senior police officers. Many senior officers of the rank of joint commissioner have started virtual meetings every morning. HT spoke to one city resident who had met senior officers of the central range when her daughter went missing.
On June 16, the seven-year-old child had gone missing from her house in Patel Nagar. The woman, Rameeta Devi, was adamant on meeting senior officers.
“They connected me to the DCP and the Joint CP. I explained to them how my daughter was unsafe. They assured me on the video call that they would find her. I remember that while I was talking to him, one of the officers was driving and was on his way to find my child. Luckily they found her,” said Devi adding that she has only met the top policemen who found her daughter online.
“ After this pandemic is over, I will meet all of them in person and thank them,” she said.
Delhi police commissioner SN Shrivastava said, “Adversities also present opportunities. We realised that in many cases, we could easily question the suspects virtually. There is better monitoring of the cases when the senior officers monitor the interrogation directly. We will follow this even after the pandemic is over. Following this and many others measures we have managed to minimise physical contact of our men on the ground and reduce the coronavirus cases (in the police department).”
The police chief also said that the cases of police personnel testing positive are gradually coming down. Until July 9, 2,339 police personnel had tested positive for the coronavirus disease, of which 1,808 (77.29%) have recovered. There are around 80,000 men and women in the city police. As many as 12 Delhi police personnel have died of the disease, while 44 are admitted in hospitals. The rest are in home quarantine.
An expert in policing matters, Prakash Singh, who headed Border Security Force(BSF) and the state police forces of Uttar Pradesh and Assam, said virtual interrogation was a good initiative that police had taken given the circumstances.
“ It is the best possible solution at this times. Senior officers will not have to depend on their juniors. The monitoring is better. Besides a group of officers avoiding physical contact, if this is minimising the risk of many officers for one interrogation, it is a laudable move,” said Singh, whose petition led the Supreme Court issuing directions for police reforms in 2006.
“Sometimes, coming in contact with such arrested persons could mean a serious risk. The high court and the Supreme Courts are already holding virtual court hearings. It is working fine, it seems. One needs to evolve and find the best possible solution in this pandemic.”