Police have been at the forefront of pandemic management. The largest proportion has been the constables on the field. In India, the constabulary constitutes approximately 80% of the actual civil police force. In response to the lockdown decision by the Government of India and the respective state governments, constables have been at the front lines enforcing precautionary measures, coordinating public health response, ensuring a smooth supply of essentials, protecting healthcare workers and preventing overcrowding, to name just a few of their responsibilities.

The study aims to understand communication flows within parts of the police hierarchy, the factors motivating frontline police personnel to go above and beyond their traditional role, and the level of discretion they possess in discharging their duties—all in the context of COVID-19. Against this backdrop, we looked deeper into whether information flows horizontally and from the bottom up in the police, whether learnings from the field are incorporated in decision making and the processes around internal communications. Additionally, we tried to understand what motivates police personnel to serve the public beyond their traditional roles at tremendous personal risk. We also attempted to assess the level of autonomy and discretion they enjoy in performing their duties.

Between 22 July and 11 August 2020, we conducted an online link-based survey of constables on COVID-19 duty across Madhya Pradesh who were identified with the help of the Deputy Superintendents of Police (DSPs) probationers who were on their field training in the districts. We received responses from 773 constables and the effective number of responses analysed was 762, covering 1.6% of the constables in the state.

Note: This work was done by the author/s when they were a part of the IDFC Institute and is republished here with permission.