MUMBAI: For a brief period in July, a hotel in central Mumbai had three strange guests. They never left their room and their meals were left outside their door. In an adjoining room, a group of stocky men were glued to a screen 24x7. They were watching on camera every move the three guests made-whether it was pacing up and down the room or taking a nap.
The 'guests' were accused in a murder case and had tested Covid positive, and the watchers were policemen who couldn't risk sending them to a civic quarantine centre.
Covid-19 has changed the way people live and work. But among the hardest hit is perhaps the police department. Not only is the force losing its personnel to the virus, but investigation, recovery of stolen property and interrogation have all become a tricky affair. A recent case of two accused fleeing a Covid care centre in Govandi
has left the police racking their brains on how best to keep watch. Cops lose key probe period to Covid-19
The trio was asymptomatic,” said an officer, referring to the three murder accused. “Had they been booked for a petty offence, the court would have granted them bail and we would have been spared the ordeal of guarding them. But a murder charge is non-bailable and serious. We worked in shifts to watch them,”
The police department has made arrangements with a few hospitals for lodging Covid-19 positive accused. For instance, critical cases are referred to St George Hospital and mild ones are treated at GT Hospital.
In some instances, the accused persons are sent to Covid care centres closest to the police station and armed cops, in PPE suits, watch over them. “But there is no uniform arrangement. If accused are asymptomatic, they are even being lodged in an isolated room at police stations in some cases,” said an officer. Recently, a couple of accused were quarantined on the ground floor of a guest house at Santacruz (E) that had been converted into a quarantine centre by the BMC.
“After the accused recovers and is discharged from hospital, the court sends him back into police custody. But the ‘golden period’ for investigation is lost by then. The accused has already decided on what he wants to say to us,” said an IPS officer.
Another officer said interrogations are now “contactless” and they do not oppose bail anymore. “If we know in advance that an accused is Covid positive, we don’t even arrest him till he recovers. What is the point of bringing him to the police station and risking our lives?” asked the officer.
Due to Covid restrictions, police teams have also reduced travel to other states for recovery of stolen property. “PPE suits and face shields are useless if our purpose is to remain undercover while hunting for an accused, nor can these safety kits be worn during interrogation as we need to have eye contact with the accused,” another police officer said.