Bangalore police is trying not to let its lack of numbers show.
It was a carefully crafted sting operation that could have been straight out of a movie. Early this month in Bangalore, some 700 undercover policemen, including 100 women, carried out an all-day operation on autorickshaw drivers. Posing by turn as Kannada, English and Hindi-speaking commuters, they tracked the responsiveness of drivers in a 15-hour long operation. The result: over 3,000 autorickshaw drivers were fined and 450 auto rickshaws seized for a variety of offences ranging from boorish behaviour and overcharging to refusal to ply to the commuter’s destination of choice. The scale, creativity and originality of the operation transformed what might have been a small-scale exploit into a full-fledged police feat.
Autorickshaws are a lifeline in Bangalore, whose public transport system consists of a crowded, inefficient bus service as well as a piecemeal metro rail system that is ineffectual because it only operates at two extreme ends of the city. So, the three-wheeled vehicle is often the only option for thousands of students and young workers, who use them to travel to their colleges or workplaces. By posing as Hindi- and English-speaking commuters, the Bangalore police exposed the travails of “outsiders” in dealing with auto drivers.
The raid gave the much-maligned Bangalore police force a reputation lift. Just weeks before, a young woman who refused to give in to the exorbitant fare demands of an autorickshaw driver had been soundly abused by him. Not to be cowed down, she had whipped out her smartphone and started filming the abusive driver, who then pushed and shoved her. The shaken woman’s Facebook entreaty went viral and inspired the police sting operation.
Following the auto raid, hundreds of residents took to social networks to stack praise on the police’s efforts to rein-in rogue auto drivers. “This operation made us non-Kannadigas feel that we belong in the city,” said one resident on a social networking site. “If this raid had happened earlier, I would not have bought a car,” said another. Commuters from cities like Gurgaon and Pune demanded that their police also embark on similar raids.
Bangalore Police rarely gets such a shower of eulogies. On the contrary it is flak, like when a member of the legislative assembly, Vijayanand Kashappanavar of the Congress, was caught on tape abusing and assaulting two policemen who — as is routine — started filming liquor being served to his party, without knowing his identity, at a ritzy downtown bar much past closing time.
Policing is an underappreciated job in Bangalore, where an inadequate force manages an ever-expanding city steadily swelling with an influx of immigrant workers, students and professionals. Its population is over 10 million but the city has a police force of 16,000, with some 3,000 vacancies at last count. Surprisingly, while the city has exploded both in population and size, the police force has shrunk. The city and its people are changing, policing is also changing and has become very challenging, said Raghavendra Auradkar, the city’s police commissioner, in a recent speech. Solving crime and maintaining law and order is part of it, and the Bangalore police is also required to smoothen the city’s nightmarish traffic during peak hours. It is a mammoth task in an urban sprawl with over 5 million registered vehicles — one vehicle for every two residents. Hundreds of policemen position themselves at crowded intersections in neighbourhoods trying to untangle traffic snarls. It is backbreaking, 7-days-a-week work.
To compensate for low manpower, the force is taking to technology in a big way, making it the country’s most tech-savvy. The public can send complaints through multiple modes — text messages, emails or even a post on its official website. Its social networking pages have turned into handy tools to disseminate news of crime and warn the public about the modus operandi of criminals. Recently, a Facebook upload of an offender’s photo gave the police a direct lead to the accused, who stole luxury cars by posing as a buyer and pretending to take the cars on a test drive. Automated cameras at street junctions send feeds that are monitored at a central location, yielding video evidence to book hundreds of traffic offenders.
Later, the police reprised their role as stealth agents by duplicating the sting operation on the city’s cab drivers. Constables dressed in plain clothes pretending to be commuters booked no less than 8,000 cab drivers on a single day for offences including speeding and using mobile phones while driving. The operation earned the police a cool Rs 8.65 lakh in fines. The police strategy has sorted out, at least temporarily, the problem of errant auto and cab drivers. What the police force lacked in numbers, it seems to have made up with original thinking.