Context: In a society struck by a deadly virus such as COVID-19, strict maintenance of public order is most essential. Consequently the responsibilities of law enforcement agencies have increased

Current scenario of crime rates during lockdown in India:

  • Overall drop in crime rates
    • As the roads were deserted and there was nearly zero traffic on major highways, it ensured a sharp reduction in traffic accidents and fatalities caused by such accidents. 
    • Antisocial elements could be kept at bay because of which trespass and burglary also became more difficult crimes to commit.
    • Major cities that generally report a high number of crimes found a drop in crime levels during the lockdown period. 
      • Delhi Police reported a 70?ll in heinous crimes (murders and rapes) between April 1 and 15 compared to the same period last year. 
      • Similarly, in Chennai, the total number of crimes dropped by 79% in the March 25-April 15 period over the February 25-March 15 period.
  • Uptick in domestic violence
    • On the other hand, the lockdown period saw a worrying surge in domestic violence cases.
      • For example, the Tamil Nadu Police has reportedly received 2,963 calls on domestic violence in April alone. 
    • There are two major factors for this rise. Most men are at home, either without work or in fear of losing their job.
      • Data show that domestic violence increases when there is greater unemployment. The fear and insecurity of these men cause tension at home and unfortunately, women become the victims of this tension. 
    • The non-availability of liquor during the lockdown period, which caused frustration among those men who are habituated to drinking daily is considered as the second reason for the rise in domestic violence. 
    • Also as health workers are busy combating the pandemic, there is little help for domestic violence victims during times such as the current times. This shows that epidemics leave women and girls more vulnerable to violence.

Challenges faced by police administration

  • Preventing probable rise in organized crime
    • The pandemic is both a threat to and an opportunity for, organized crime, especially illicit drug trade.
    • The organized gangs may infiltrate health services and make profits through the sale of prescription drugs that are not otherwise easily available to the public.
  • Cybercrime
    • Many new portals have been launched to get people to donate money for the cause of combating COVID-19. 
    • Experts say that many such fraudulent sites are designed so well that a large number of people are easily taken for a ride. 
  • Keeping prisons free of virus
    • Many prisons have taken steps to insulate prisoners who reported positive for the virus from the rest of the inmates.
    • The Supreme Court recently directed the States and Union Territories to constitute high-powered committees to consider releasing convicts who have been jailed up to seven years on parole, in order to decongest prisons.

Way ahead

  • Incorporating public cooperation:
    • With the bulk of the population keeping off the streets, the police could bring in equipment and manpower to handle this unusual situation. 
    • Police have already shown skillful use of social media to disseminate all relevant information to a majority of the population, both in urban and rural areas.
  • Develop a draft SOP for police
    • Apart from policymakers, the police leadership will have to introspect on its recent experience and draft a comprehensive Standard Operating Procedure that will educate all police persons in the country. 
    • This move will eventually take care of future virus waves, if any.

The pandemic and the lockdown have ensured that many crimes have gone down. However, many other crimes have gone up or will assume new forms in the near future. As we enter unlock mode, it is incumbent on law-enforcement officials to think of ways of dealing with new challenges in maintaining law and order.