“They will not stop anyone and question them, or interrogate them. This is not part of their job,” the state’s senior-most police officer declared minutes after he took over on Saturday. He hadn’t received his first briefing from the officials but had watched from a distance how the police had gone around implementing Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s directive to set up the squads.
Young men were stopped for questioning by policemen in uniform, shamed and forced to do sit-ups in various cities of the states. In one case, two policemen were caught on camera taking a Rs 5,000 bribe from a couple. In another, cops had a man’s head shaved because he had been found sitting with a woman.
When complaints of policemen harassing people in the name of protecting women from harassment started pouring in, the Chief Minister had to direct the cops not to harass the innocent at his meetings with the police brass, and even at public rallies. But it seemed too late.
A Delhi Police officer said squad was a disaster from the word, go. “You don’t send policemen in uniform on such a hunt but deploy them in plain clothes at places from where complaints are received, such as outside colleges for women,” he said.
As the first step, Mr Singh has banned police stations from setting up these squads on their own, saying these squads could be sent out only on the orders of the district chief once they have been briefed by the Superintendent of Police-rank officer.
The officer said fresh ground rules would be issued on how the squads are to go about their job, spelling out their role and the action that they need to take, depending on the offence.
They have to just watch, and act only if there is objectionable behaviour and what action will be taken, will be clearly spelt out, according to the nature of the objectionable behaviour in the standing order.
But the Anti-Romeo Squads isn’t the only thing that he intends to fix in Uttar Pradesh police.
Mr Singh vowed to put an end to the practice of police officers burking crime, or avoiding registering reported crimes to keep the crime figures low. “I will not assess police officers on the basis of crime statistics,” he told reporters.
An FIR, or a police case, is the first interface of the public with the police. There are bound to be grievances if the police turn them away, he said, adding that once cases were registered on demand, public grievances would decline sharply. As head of police training institutes in the state, Mr Singh had introduced courses to bring about attitudinal and behavioural changes among policemen and is likely to stress on the importance of soft skills in the force.