Re-imagining and re-building the police brand

Gurpreet Kaur Deo, a senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer of the Punjab Police was very busy over the past week with a very unusual task … organising sanitary napkins for women all over the state who have not been able to access the pads due to the lockdown. She spent the entire week galvanising multiple non-governmental organisations in Punjab’s 27 districts to help in the distribution. Helplines manned by an all-women crew were put in place almost overnight. Social media messages were posted district-wise. Most importantly, the deliveries were being handled only by women constables and lady volunteers, which included wives of IPS officers.  The 1993 batch officer has handled many important assignments in her tenure, but nothing quite as out-of-the-ordinary as this one — needing trust, empathy, sensitivity, compassion, communication and logistics, all at the same time. 

Deo’s boss, Dinkar Gupta, the state’s Director General of Police has not slept for more than four hours a night since the pandemic related lockdown and curfew were imposed last month. From tracing 90,000 odd non-resident Indian Punjabis who landed at various airports and melted into the rural hinterland without any Covid testing to arranging food packets for migrant workers and converting teams of policemen into “mandi officials for harvesting of the wheat from the fields and its orderly procurement and seamless transportation … Gupta has also been playing the role of the chief social media strategist for the police with head-turning, hilarious posts on Twitter, Instagram and more. 

Far away in Dharamkot, near Moga, again in Punjab, Assistant Sub-Inspector Bikkar Singh and Constable Sukhjinder Singh, rigged up a wooden bench to help deliver a baby literally by the roadside at midnight by summoning a local nurse from the nearby village and getting other womenfolk to assist, despite the lateness of the hour. 

Knights in khaki. That is the new avatar of the police in India. Especially after sword wielding wallahs had to be seen to be believed.

The narrative so far may have been focused on Punjab. But it is actually the story of every police force across India. Petals have been showered on cops by grateful neighbourhoods across the country; policemen have been doing street plays; policemen have been singing; policemen have been tending to the old and infirm by reaching them food and milk. All, a far cry from the danda-happy policeman who could be bought for a few rupees slipped into his khaki pocket. 

This pandemic could well be the pivot for the police as a brand, something we could just not achieve in seven decades since independence: Giving the law-keepers of the nation a certain respect, some awe, some gratitude, a salute to their long hours and arduous work, building them into what they really always ought to have been — symbols of our trust. Not a police force, but a people’s force.

Mumbai Police has been building its brand pro-actively for the past five years. The “CP Mumbai Police” is one of the finest police Twitter handles in the world — cerebral, witty, topical, responsive and responsible. Other police forces around the country have been trying to emulate their Mumbai brethren. The heightened volume of social communication put out by every police unit during this corona crisis has surely taught each one of them a lot many more tricks on what to say, how to say, and how to say it more interestingly and engagingly.

True, also that brand building of the police will make sense, and would be credible, only if the police do not go back to their old corrupt ways soon as it is life as usual again. The seva orientation, the step taken forward in “service”, the more tolerant nuances learnt during Covid times, the humanitarian acts, the overt love for the poor and underprivileged should not vapourise after the lockdown is lifted. The police brand can be created … to some extent we already have one for the armed forces … but the brand will need many wrongs of the past to be righted. 

New York Police Department (NYPD) is already a world famous brand. Some of it may have to do with the portrayal of its officers in Hollywood movies as sharp, smart and savvy. With an attitude. And a certain body language that demands respect. We can do it in India too.  

The police brand in India needs some thinking. Some introspection. Some discipl­ine. Some recalibration. Some re-education. Some re-training. Some chiselling. Some sculpting. The results could be just awesome.
The writer is an advertising and media veteran

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