The good in the ‘bad’ cop

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While we often criticise our police force for corruption and inefficiency, there is another side to the story, says Dr. Harish Shetty. He has worked closely with the force and says they work long hours, often without any support systems, which affects their health and morale. He offers some solutions.

What crosses our minds when one see a cop on the road ? Most of my respondents said, ‘A guy who tries to make a fast buck, a professional who is reluctant to file an F.I.R if the complainant is not influential, and one who obeys his bosses, not his seniors, but his political bosses’.

I see them in a different light. The Constabulary that constitutes 90 plus percent of the force, are a sad lot. With so many festivals in India and a million V.I.Ps, they spend most of their time with us. The plight of the seniors is no different. I strongly believe that the we cannot demonise the mother at home, the teacher in a school and the cop on the road. They run the country more than anybody else. That’s my belief, though many of you may not agree with this. Across the last 30 years I have been involved in training the cops, law enforcing agencies, and judicial officers, and have interacted with offenders, not to mention a small stint I did in a jail with the Gandhians.
I still remember a small chat with cops during the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai. A few had serious emergencies at home and they just could not be there. One of the cops had tears rolling down, as he was not able to see his new born daughter for three weeks. Yet, the other side where the common man has to face hardships when the cop is not compassionate, is difficult, and works against the norms of justice, is also very true. From my listening to a million voices of the police force and as an active mental health professional who has spent as much time on the ground as inside the confines of a clinic, I would like to share a few insights.

Structural changes is a must

There has been an attempt in Maharashtra to experiment with eight hour shifts. This is a great move and should be replicated at whatever cost. Cops in the police stations or doctors in government hospitals cannot be working for two to three days at a stretch without sleep. Tired and weary cops are prone to errors, misjudgements, and also rage. Long term effects of stretched working hours can be disastrous. Apart from the destruction of the mind-body orchestra with lifestyle illnesses, dehumanisation is a consequence. Here one becomes indifferent to pain or pleasure, and becomes a walking-talking robot. Compassion and judgement suffers. In my workshops I always felt like a mason attempting to repair the building when it is on fire. So structural reforms such as decent working hours, good salaries, and working conditions are a must. Teachers, doctors and cops need to be taken care of and allowed to perform in an autonomous manner without interference. Transparency in the functioning improves accountability and mental health. The police force has the habit of having ad hoc workshops following the sudden death of a senior cop or a suicide by one of them. Remember, such workshops follow only health accidents of super cops. This does not help. In the photos of the event, many are found napping!

Building emotional wealth and equity
Yoga and vipassana are gifts by two great scientists of Mother India. Patanjali and Gautam Buddha were scientists as much as they were philosophers. I was happy to see a full-fledged gymkhana at the Powai police station. A meditation room along with a gym will help to beat the stress. This should be a mandate across all police stations. I found cops not making use of it regularly. Well, one does not need to take an hour for exercising or pranayama. A quick 10-minute pranayama or a quick run on the treadmill as and when one has time, is good too. Short breathing stints or mini bursts of humour calms down the nerves. Calming the autonomic nervous system happens with slow deep breathing, exercise and laughter. Stress is beaten and depression prevented.

Managing feelings

The ‘macho’ cop is breathing fire or using his rational brain in using law. The heart remains in suspended animation. Many breath fire at home too, and cannot differentiate between work and home, accuse the family members. Here, using feeling phrases at workplaces is so important. ‘I am upset’, ‘I feel so angry’, ‘I am so scared’, are sentences cops need to hear from their own vocal chords. No cop can be fearless, always on the dot, and must never suffer from a sense of omnipotence, or believe that he is indispensable. The cop at home has to use the ‘f’ factor. Feeling phrases need to replace adjectives and sarcastic bombs. Healthy sleep facilitates such a change. Irritability is anger in motion, and if it lasts, is a sure red flag. It’s a sign of impending stress waiting to knock the cop with a depressive episode. Tears are liberating and the ‘force’ should never be ashamed of their tears as and when it has to flow. Blocking feelings leads to illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes etc. Identifying, acknowledging, accepting, and experiencing can deal with difficult emotions most of the times.

I know of a cop who just could not sleep because of bad memories. He just could not forget the face of a dying criminal whom he had encountered. Many cops who have been involved in encounters become hard emotionally, and at times their demeanour is not different than hardened criminals who have committed many murders. Many of them do not seek help. Such cops need therapy for possible post-traumatic stress disorder that can last throughout life. With this disorder they are not able to feel joy, and are emotionally numb. The ‘force’ needs to prioritise special debriefing sessions for cops at high risk, after a ‘major police operation’, with trained therapists.

Stress and depression

India is in the middle of a looming mental health epidemic said the President of our country recently. The National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS), in its first ever major epidemiological study found that 1/10 and more are mentally ill in India. During a session with the ‘commando force ‘ in one of the states of our country, the chief shared that four of them had committed suicide in the last two years. From the entry point to retirement, every cop should be screened for mental health issues through trained mental health professionals.
Police stations should be in touch with local mental health professionals and conduct mental health activities across the year. The force needs a dedicated Additional Commissioner for mental health to oversee the health of the force. The IPS should stand by the force and be completely loyal to them rather than their political masters. Camaraderie and perceived support also helps mental health. Two elected representatives recently assaulted a cop in the Assembly of our state of Maharashtra. We did not hear of any punishment meted out to them, and the case file may be buried in a police station. Four women police constables were molested by a mob during the Raza Academy morcha recently, and one has not seen any action. Such morale shattering events destroys mental health.

Family mental health

The Indian Army has an association of the ‘wives’ . Such a structure in the ‘force’ will help. In the last two decades, the world around has changed. With increased violence, rape and terror attacks, the family members are an anxious lot. Special attention to the family members by the state is a must. Getting them together in small numbers more often, and in large numbers once in a while, will help. Providing accessible health and mental health services should be a right.


Dr. Harish Shetty

Dr. Harish Shetty is a counselor and practising psychiatrist with extensive experience in various areas of mental health. He also works extensively with children. He consults at Dr. L.H. Hiranandani Hospital, Powai, Mumbai. He can be contacted at: harish139@yahoo.com

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