Cops mingle with the faithful as a way to cultivate intelligence and look out for potential trouble
A good intelligence network can be the police’s strongest ally, and like they always do, this year too, the Mumbai Police relied on it during Id-ul-Fitr.
Counting of votes was held on May 23, during the holy month of Ramzan, and Id was observed soon after the results of the Lok Sabha elections came in, making it challenging for the police. Within days of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government being elected, instances of alleged hate crimes in various parts of the country were reported, adding to the tension.
Festivals have historically been the targets of choice for those aiming to disrupt communal harmony. The advent of social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter has only made it easy for such miscreants.
Cultivating a network
In times like these, police officials said, joining hands with citizens to keep themselves informed round the clock is not only the best option, but it is also sometimes the only one.
A police inspector with the Dongri police station said for years, they have been organising personal interactions with people in their jurisdictions, winning and maintaining their confidence and cultivating informants.
During the entire month of Ramzan, police personnel in Dongri, Pydhonie and MRA Marg would be on the streets before the faithful came out for their morning Sehri and prayers. This was as much to mingle with them as to deter those with malafide intentions.
Being in the profession of interacting with people on a daily basis teaches a policeman how to read between the lines. “Nothing happens in an instant. We constantly monitor the buzz on the ground in order to be able to foresee a problem. It requires hard work and communication between the team and the people,” a Zone 1 officer said.
The extra hours
A senior Crime Branch officer, who has in the past served in police stations in three zones, said, “Human intelligence is of various forms. While it is one thing to cultivate informants among criminal elements, creating an informer base among the common people is a challenge. The motivations of such people are different, as are the methods of dealing with them.”
The police’s preparations for the day of Id this year began at midnight. Knowing a flare-up could occur over something as trivial as parking space, the police, along with personnel from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, cleared all parking spaces near mosques and prayer halls so that namaaz on Id-ul-Fitr could go off without a hitch.
“Due to the nature of our work, we end up spending as many as 13 hours at work at times. We make sure we utilise this time to contact as many people as we can. This helps on crucial occasions like Id, when all of the goodwill we gather is put to use,” an officer said.
On every festive occasion, policemen are regularly seen exchanging greetings and hugs with citizens, taking part in the festivities while keeping an eye out for potential problems.
“The police with their networking and team effort have managed to keep the entire city safe and peaceful. The entire month of Ramadan passed very peacefully, due to their efforts and cooperation,” Bhendi Bazaar resident Sajid Supariwala, vice president of Shiv Vahatuk Sena, Shiv Sena, said.
Simultaneously, the police also make use of units like the Mills Special, the premier intelligence gathering machinery for the police force, as well as Anti-Terror Cells set up in each police station to focus exclusively on anti-terror measures.
The Social Media Lab of the Mumbai Police constantly monitors Facebook and Twitter, looking out for inflammatory posts and reporting potentially problematic content to the websites, requesting that they be blocked.
“The main problem is WhatsApp, which is very hard to monitor or control. It is next to impossible to trace the origins of a message that gets circulated. Again, the intelligence network comes in handy. We have a trusted bank of citizen informants, who alert us of any such messages in time. We have to reciprocate their trust by swiftly negating rumours with clarifications of our own,” a senior officer with the Mumbai Police said.
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