More and more neighbourhoods are forming their vigilante groups, with the help of the police to tackle crime, reports PRINCE FREDERICK
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IT is midnight and we are at Lakshmi Nagar, Nanganallur. Venkatraman and a couple of his friends are walking up and down a street. Now and then, they twirl their lathis and swith on their torches. When the silence is shattered by a piercing whistle from a neighbouring street, a sense of urgency envelops them and they hurtle accross to the source of the signal.

Credit should go to the Lakshmi Nagar Welfare Association for having formed a night patrol team even before the Friends of Police movement sprouted in the State.

"We formed this team in 1991," Venkatraman, chairman of the Lakshmi Nagar Night Patrolling Team, recalls with pride. "About 70 of us are in the team. Even septuagenarians are part of this group. Every day, not less than seven volunteers would go round the neighbourhood which accommodates about 500 families. We have three paid security men. Besides, the police accompany us on our 'beats '. Over the years, we have chased away many thieves and nabbed some. A few years ago, we foiled an attempt to rob the Indian Bank branch in Nanganallur. Now, criminals keep away from our locality because they know they do not stand a chance here. I can proudly say our neighbourhood is 100 percent crime-free".

About two years after the Lakshmi Nagar patrol team was formed, Prateep V. Philip, an IPS officer, sowed the seeds of what is today known as the Friends of Police (FOP) movement.

"Prateep set up the first FOP group in Ramanathapuram district, Primarily to build bridgs of understanding between the local fishermen community and the police force. This group was successful in initiating a dialogue between the police and the locals, and bringing about peace. Soon, this model spread to the other districts as well," says G. Lourduswami, administrator, Friends of Police Documentation & Training Center.

"The FOP system operates on the principle that the police can have no better partners in crime prevention thatn the residents. For the police to enjoy a rapport with residents, we try to remove the fear and wrong about the force," says Usha Rani, psychologist at the FOP training centre. "Once residents see the friendly face of the police, they are forthcoming wiht information about the criminal elements and the unpleasant goings-on in the neighbourhood."

To strengthen the police-public interface, programmes are conducted at the FOP training centre on Nelson Manickam Road (52186554). The trainees, selected from the public, are taught psychological concepts such as Equilibrium Thinking, which, on is compelled to believe, can go a long way in checking crime. "Equilibrium Thinking helps one take a balanced view of a situation. It would enable him to take into consideration the negative as well as the positive aspects of a situation, "says Usha Rani.

The FOP system has turnd out to be a big help to the police force which is caught between a limited manpower and an eve-burgeoning urban population. "Today in Chennai alone, there are about 5,000 FOPs who are helping the policemen", says Lourduswami. And it is also said that more and more neighbourhoods are forming their vigilante groups, with the help of the police. One notices a healthy competition among the neighbourhood FOPs. They vie with one another for the golden spoon- which, in this case, is the 'model FOP title'. Among the latest neighbourhoods to have joined the FOP movement is West Mogappair. "We are called a model FOP group. The presence of women is a special feature. While the men undertake night patrolling, the women take up tasks like regulation of the crowd at Perumalkoil on Saturdays or attending to grievances at the FOP booth, "Says Gopinath, who haeads the West Mogappair FOP. "West Mogappair, I can confidently say, is 98 percent crime free."

"Our ecperience has showed that the crime rate tends to drop when residents realise that it is within their power to create a crime-free neighbourhood. The St.Thomas Mount area is a case in point, "says Lourduswami, " For one thing, residents have a better understanding of people living there. In Brindavan Nagar, Valasaravakkam, where I live, a vigilante group was active in the 1990s. This group would periodically give the local police a list of potential trouble-makers in the area".

It would actually be a misrepresentation of reality to label these as 'vigilante groups' for their service to their neighbourhood and assistance to the local police extend well beyond community policing. "They arbitrate in disputes. They spread AIDS awareness. They are even banner-carrying mumber of anti-drugs compaigns," says Lourduswami. In other words, they safeguard their neighbourhood from less visible dangers as well.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Prateep V. Philip, the prime moving force behind the Friends of Police movement
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Crime rate tends to drop when residents realise that it is within their power to create a crime-free neighbourhood.

-G.Lourduswami

 

The FOP system operates on the principle that the police can have no better partners in crime prevention than the residents themselves.

-Usha Rani