Published: 30th April 2020
What being part of the Friends of Police during the COVID lockdown is like
The Friends of Police volunteers have been working closely with police officers in maintaining the lockdown restrictions. But do people really care about them and what they have to say
During the early days of the lockdown, when the traffic-less roads were still a novelty, I was surprised when a youth clad in a yellow T-shirt with the text 'Friends of Police' printed across stopped my two-wheeler. After checking my ID card, he let me proceed. In case you're curious, the Friends of Police, a community policing initiative has brought thousands of youngsters and students to work with the police over the years, has really stepped it up during the lockdown.
From night patrolling once in a while to barely getting a timeout, these FOP volunteers have a lot of experiences to talk about. "We have three shifts similar to police officers right now. Due to a shortage of volunteers, most of us work two shifts per day, which means eight hours of rest and the remaining time is dedicated for FOP duty," shares R Sivakumar, Coimbatore B1 Police Station FOP Co-ordinator.
Things have been quite hectic for these men ever since the lockdown began, explains Coimbatore B3 Police Station FOP Co-ordinator V Krishnakumar, "Once we start duty, we do not have any break. We advise people not to venture out on the road, but they hardly listen to us. They are yet to understand the seriousness of the disease. If they are out for an irrelevant reason, we seize their bikes with the police personnel of that region." And the responsibility doesn't end there, "Before the strict lockdown, people used to venture outside to buy essentials. Since our region includes the market place, we were extra cautious. Only shopkeepers were allowed to come to the markets. Not knowing the seriousness, some common people pose as shopkeepers. To avoid such incidents, once the shopkeeper parks the vehicle in the market place, he is allowed to go to the market and get a detailed bill of the commodities purchased. The bill is cross-checked either by FOPs or police officers. Understandably, a shopkeeper's need would be greater when compared to a household. After this checking, the shopkeeper is allowed to take the commodities and his bike. If found to be fake, the individual is warned, or the bike is seized," shares Krishnakumar.
Krishna Kumar V
Krishnakumar is a tailor, while Sivakumar is a mechanic who owns a workshop.
The FOPs also instruct the sellers in marketplaces to strictly follow social distancing. "Before opening the shops, we ask them to draw circles, maintaining a three-foot gap. Once the customers start coming, this is not possible. Hence we have to check this as well in advance. If the shopkeeper doesn't do this, we do it and request them to follow it from the next day. If they don't, then we report it to the concerned police station, and the shopkeeper would be hit with a fine. This automatically forces them to abide by the rules," he adds.
To make the spreading of awareness 'cool', the FOPs in association with the Police Department have also conducted socially-distanced street plays. Painting us a picture of what these plays were like, Sivakumar says, "The plays featured a character named Jakamma. She is there to convey some bad news about the Coronavirus outbreak. She also gives people the solution to the issue. Our aim is to convey the message uniquely."
Actively volunteering amidst the crisis, Sivakumar says that they are here to serve the people and help police officers who need help. "We have convinced our family that it is our duty to do this and not to panic as we are taking the necessary precautionary measures," he smiles.
Being a support system for the men in khakhi, FOPs are treated well by the public and NGOs. "The respective police station provides us with food and water. Standing under the scorching sun is not an easy job, a few NGOs and individuals provide us with water and juice during the day. Since we do not have a source of livelihood during this lockdown period, we have dedicated ourselves to working as FOPs. It would be great if the department could give us a sum of money as a salary. This would help our family after the Coronavirus crisis," Krishnakumar opines.