Home Views & Opinions Policing during the pandemic in Karachi: Challenges and chances

Policing during the pandemic in Karachi: Challenges and chances


The Covid – 19 has brought forward new challenges for all. The police force around the world is one of the most important institution among law enforcement agencies, in the wake of pandemic, to combat the disease. To fight the corona virus, the government of Pakistan constituted National Action plan. With the formation of NAP, the police department emerged as one of the core institutions to support the federal and provincial governments to contain the spread of Corona Disease.
Karachi police department also stand as frontline soldier to combat covid-19. Although NAP issued guidance and legal framework on how to maintain public order and ensure implementation of SOPs at markets and public places during the current pandemic. However, in Karachi, the largest metropolitan of Pakistan, reports of malpractices and high handedness of police with media and public, reveal a lack of preparedness and empathy.
One of the senior official responding to query of lack of preparedness said “Police in Pakistan suddenly found themselves in an unprecedented situation where the entire world last year experienced a universal challenge in the shape of a Novel Corona virus, the most serious health challenge the world has faced in a century. Though situation was not an ideal one, still despite lack of funds, resources and training, our force of jawans is trying to ensure compliance with public health laws and SOPs-such as lockdowns and social distancing.”
Challenges During Pandemic Policing:
Police force has come into limelight around the world as they assume the role of first responders to the pandemic. This role has increasingly brought police officers into contact with citizens and media, which frequently results in mistrust and mishandling.
Dan Jones – an Inspector with the Edmonton Police Service in Canada who is completing a PhD at the University of Huddersfield in the UK in his article titled “The Potential Impacts of Pandemic Policing on Police Legitimacy: Planning Past the COVID-19 Crisis”, warns against police forces adopting an authoritarian or militarized approach. That could mean they lose their legitimacy, especially with poor communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Analyzing the data from all over the world, the article states that “the over-policing of marginalized neighborhoods and communities is particularly worrisome during the pandemic, when the police have to enforce new public health laws and ensure public safety while depending on the public’s willingness to comply with social distancing or lockdowns in a way that they never had to before.”
So Pakistan is no exception. The incident of ‘roughing up’ of journalists by Karachi police, who were doing their job at the start of lockdown this year was highlighted all over the media. Besides this, rushing of police mobiles and constables at cut-off time in bazaars and browbeating the salesmen and shopkeepers is the common complaint of public. The manifestation of a militarized, zero-tolerance policing approach by local police is also known to all.
Commenting on incidents of journalists, senior official said “owing to mushroom growth of web channels, youtubbers and paratroopers posing themselves as journalists, it has become increasingly difficult for police to identify fake from the real journalists. However, Karachi police chief, AIG Mr. Imran Yaqoob Minhas ordered immediate enquiry in all cases and personally monitored the process. In addition, ADIG has ordered all SDPOs to deal with journalists to facilitate them performing their duty.”
“We cannot deny the fact that police force has its own shortcomings, since it is also part of this society. But our force never gave up. You would never see our Jawan quitting despite lack of resources and other facilities. It is our lower rank constable who stands as frontline worker in testing times last year when the situation was like a curfew and we succeeded in detaining people at homes. Our 22 police personnel, so far died of corona while thousands of them suffered from the disease”. Police officers also face personal health risks due to their proximity to infected persons and spaces and the fact that much of the constabulary lives in congested areas that lack proper health and sanitation facilities.
Due to outdated policing practices and absence of modern training, the police responded with uncalled for detentions and arrests and heavy handedness during the recent lockdown. It is widely reported by market and bazaar shop keepers that police mobiles and force rush at cut-off time to the bazaars and browbeat the salesmen, shopkeepers and harass the entire business community, which raises the questions on their intentions and legitimacy, whether all such authoritarian practices are for money-minting or preventing public health.
Explaining the stance of police, the senior official said: “we are not easy people, there is a non-serious attitude among people regarding covid-19 and they do not take it as a serious threat to human lives. Our society already has strained relationships with the police, which now having a harder time complying with the SOPs to be enforced by the jawans in crowded places. However, the new Karachi police chief, Mr. Imran Yaqoob Minhas soon after his appointment as AIG Karachi paid surprise visits to different police stations to observe performance of his team. After the visits, subordinates were warned of strict disciplinary action in case of negligence. Entire police force has been conveyed to improve their behavior and plan a strategy, based on laws, to resolve citizens’ issues. Karachi Police chief is serious and determined to bring positive change in police-public relationships and make police people-friendly”. Police leadership at Karachi level is focused to improve the local police image through different PR approach, he added..
Police welfare and well-being:
Despite lack of funds from the federal government for police welfare during the pandemic, Sindh government has provided little financial support, though focused efforts to support the police is missing at NAP. Nevertheless, senior management of Sindh Police aims to provide least possible protection for the police in shape of masks, gloves and sanitizers(ditto) at lower level.
During pandemic more than 7000 police officials were infected with disease. Police higher ups personally look after that affected personnel were given best possible medical care. They were granted immediate leaves. Apart from dedicated police hospitals, focal persons are being appointed in 14 different hospitals so that affectees can be admitted without any delay. Patients were also being provided with oximeters, oxygen cylinders, special technicians to provide relief when and where required.
IG Sindh, Mr. Mushtaq Ahmed Mahar requested the provincial home department to declare police personnel frontline workers in the fight against Covid-19 in March 2021 for urgent vaccination. According to senior official 98 percent of Karachi police force has been given first dose and administration of second dose of vaccine is in process accordingly. For vaccination, 5 dedicated centers have been set up to facilitate the vaccinations of personnel in all districts. “We take the well-being of our force very seriously during the pandemic. To boost their morale, ex-Karachi police chief, Mr. Guam Nabi Memon, visited check points and pickets, presented bouquets and appreciation certificates. Those were the difficult times when this contagious disease created a panic globally but our force stood on roads and highways to enforce much needed lock down” , said the senior cop. The compensation amount for those who died due to corona has been incremented to 10 lacs from 5 lacs, he emphasized. “We as a force and team recognize the sacrifice of our jawans at every level”.
Opportunities to learn from the pandemic!!
The university researcher and the senior police officer, Inspector Dan Jones has debated in his article that the extra power and laws, the police entrusted with during Covid-19 would have a long-lasting effect on their relationship with the public. However, at the same time, he suggested, “If the police respond with compassion and care when they are required to enforce public health laws due to the pandemic response of their respective nations, this could build police legitimacy in a time of crisis.” The article concludes, “Police leaders need to ensure that procedurally just practices are occurring between police and public”.
And this study might be the bottom line of learning opportunity, while the COVID-19 has revealed the challenges and hurdles, the police force facing in Pakistan, it can also serve as an opportunity for their leaders to revisit and assess their performance during this health crisis and develop strategies and device training progammes to respond better in such pandemic or epidemic crises in future. Today is the high time to evaluate policing approach and paying attention to areas that require improvement.
According to various studies conducted by researchers and think tanks, police must learn from this pandemic policing to improve their communication strategies and practices to ensure compliance with government guidelines and better police-community relations. The entire exercise of evaluation and assessment not only needs allocation of funds and resources for responding to public complaints and grivences, but also moving beyond counterterrorism policing-a style of policing that has dominated police policy and practice over the last few decades-toward community policing. The studies suggest that community policing demands “soft policing” approach that is a shift from current militarized and zero-tolerance practices.
The pandemic provides an opportunity for law enforcement agencies to build a knowledge base that draws upon both the experiential learning of officers in the field and public perceptions of the police in times of lockdown. It is a high time for federal and provincial governments to invest on capacity building of lower ranks of police force. This investment in human resource would bring forth “much-sentisized” and tolerant force moving towards “serving the public.