PCR call centres and patrol vehicles are an essential link in the police's efforts to prevent crime and respond swiftly. Here’s how it works.
A little before five in the morning on October 31, a call comes through to the Police Control Room (PCR). The caller, a girl, starts shouting, telling the police personnel that she had come out to drink water when “They hit me”.
She is asked her location, but the girl is only able to give vague descriptions like “I’m standing on the highway”, “I can see apartments.” Finally, nudged further, she gives her location as Nirman Vihar. “Three men are after me on a bike, come soon,” she says in the same sentence.
At nine minutes past five, the control room again gets a call from the woman. This time a woman police personnel responds and the caller sounds distraught by now.
In bouts of coherence, she says that a guard jumped on her; the head guard saw this but didn’t do anything. The call was then logged under the rape category.
“I called 100 and even they aren’t doing anything” she alleged in the second call. The police personnel ask her whereabouts again. “I can’t read”, she says, “Police came to help”, she cries out, “but even they are saying that it’s my fault”.
The caller sounds overcome with distress, the police personnel still asking her to try and tell her location. She goes on to spell the name of the society outside which she is standing. “I fought at home and ran away and sat down to drink water and they jumped on me. I could not do anything. I’m calling you, I’m helpless”.
The personnel tell her reassuringly, “I’m sending someone”. This second call’s log, however, has no mention of what happened next and only that a PCR van had already reached this case.
This is just one of the calls received by the control room that day. And one among an average of five to six calls alleging rape that the Delhi Police PCR received this year, every day.
Many logs of two weeks that we got access to had cases of alleged sexual assault of minors, a few with women alleging false promises of marriage, and some that turned out to be false allegations of rape as reported by the PCR personnel that reached the scene.
One of those false ones was of a man calling on behalf of another. A man had allegedly run to his shop to plead with him to call the police because his mother was being raped.
The personnel on hearing this word can be heard speaking to someone else in the backdrop for a few seconds, then another policeman comes to the phone. He asks the caller to put him through to the son, who takes the phone and says, “I can’t breathe”. The personnel prods him, “Tell me who you are, who are these boys? Are they your neighbours, your relatives?”
But the son gives the phone back to the man, he had run to seeking help. “Just come”, the man says. “The woman has been raped and if you come soon enough you may be able to save her life.”
The information logged in after the personnel reach the spot says that they reached within five minutes and found no incident of rape or murder. The caller (the son) was mentally unwell and even the night before had called to allege his mother had been kidnapped.
On November 2, at 10:32 pm another call alleging rape was found to be untrue. A 16-year-old girl called the PCR. The girl was screaming that her father and mother were being beaten by her grandfather and uncle. She then went on to say that her uncle would rape her if the police didn’t come soon. The incident log states that upon reaching they found a fight amongst family members but no incidence of “eve-teasing and rape”.
But not all calls are untrue. The next day around 10 pm at night a woman calls and says a child has been raped.
The father of the child then takes the phone and gives his address — they live in North East Delhi’s Jyoti Nagar. His third child, out of four, was picked up by a boy: He says his daughter can identify him by face but does not know his name.
The child was allegedly picked up between 7 and 8 pm by the suspect, who gave her a Rs 5 note. He took her up on the roof of the house where the man forced the child to remove her clothes. The father then went into details of what the child was subjected to.
When the police personnel reached the scene, the little girl recited what had happened to her. The man was identified, the log says, but when the SHO went to nab the boy he was not found. And the child and father were sent to the police station.
These are just a few calls which show the magnitude of the PCR personnel’s responsibility. They can save lives by quick action and taking down the first information, a valuable input to further investigations.
But what is considerably worrying is that those handling these calls are a small team of 123 Delhi police personnel for various helplines. On an average, this small team has to tackle five to six lakh calls every day. DCP Police Control Room (PCR) Sharat Sinha says the “real ones” on average are about 6,000.
Last month, from October 1 to October 30, the PCR received 169 calls alleging rape, which averages to five calls per day. The Delhi police crime report states that in 2019, till October 31st there were 1,877 incidents of rape (376 IPC). This would make it an average of six cases of rape each day in Delhi this year.
The brutal rape case of December 16, 2012, has kept the country and its Capital at the core of worldwide attention. Statistics like the one above and also the recently released one by the NCRB, however, again shows we are nowhere close to eliminating sexual violence, with 1,231 victims of rape in Delhi in 2017.
The gangrape of Nirbhaya had highlighted another flaw, of the response time to the PCR call made by Rajkumar – the man who stopped and saw the woman and man lying naked, bleeding on the road on the fateful cold December day.
In an earlier report, Rajkumar had alleged to Patriot that the first PCR vehicle to land up at the scene denied help, saying the locality didn’t fall under its jurisdiction. The second one asked too many questions and didn’t help, while the third finally did their job.
A report released in February of this year by Praja foundation and IC Centre for Governance titled ‘State of Policing and Law & Order in Delhi’ found that the most used “Medium of Informing Police by respondents who have witnessed crime in Delhi” was the helpline numbers “100/103 etc”. This was told by 72% of the respondents for the survey.
So how well versed are they? DCP (Operations and Communications) S K Singh says the first responders are trained for 9 months, “directly recruited from the training college and some even from the field”.
This is unlike other states (or Union Territory in this case) he says, where “many agencies have outsourced such services”, giving an example of the UP Police whose personnel get about one-month training, which he calls “not the best practice”.
“Take, for example, that rape has happened. The first call that is made is very important” and so the personnel must know how to deal with it, DCP Singh points out.
Furthermore, “It has happened that the woman says in court that I had called the police after the rape, but our first information, taken down by the personnel says she had reached out for help that the rape was going to happen… so such details are also taken into consideration”, says DCP Singh as we meet him in his office at Delhi’s Integrated Complex Operations & Communication.
Here two long floors are allocated to offices for personnel dedicated to taking calls of grievances. Every call generates a signal ID, with even an attempt to get through to the hotline being lodged with an ID.
After the call has been logged, it gets an event ID and each individual case can be found through this or the caller’s phone number, as we were shown.
Other rooms have personnel who then receive all the information — they are the dispatchers, responsible to send the PCR van and inform the complainant about the whereabouts of the van and estimate time it would take to reach.
Aisle after aisle in the receiver section is divided, from those handling the direct PCR number (100) to Women in Distress (1091) and Special Cell (North-Eastern States -1093) but this will all change when the government plan to have one emergency helpline number —112 — for the whole country becomes a reality.
In the present setup, another floor acts as the data centre, with a screen for monitoring gateway, another looking at all the areas of Delhi and calls coming through and screen three with all the Delhi police cars and their locations.
But the number of those manning these stations fall short. The same paper mentioned previously shows the dwindling manpower in the departments of the police force from details based as of March 31, 2018. This, except Crime Branch which was equipped with 4% (1,407) more staff than sanctioned (1,354), in the year 2017. This became 8% (1,463) the next year.
The Special Police Unit for Women & Children (SPUW & C) is another department with positive number of police force. In 2017 it had 24% (361) more than sanctioned (300) staff which grew to 40% (421) in 2018; Security is another department with higher number of personnel than sanctioned. This was not so in 2017, where its strength was at a negative -1% (7,088), but got better by increasing its strength by 1% (7,411) from its sanctioned strength (7,330).
The ‘other’ departments which include PCR were one of the three departments — including Traffic and Delhi Armed Force — which stood at a negative.
For now, they don’t seem to be hiring any more personnel for the call centre. Instead the PCR have new vehicles on road skimming the streets for crime.
On September 25 this year, Delhi Police added 15 vehicles to the fleet patrolling the roads as part of ‘Prakhar’ — anti-street crime vans — to fight street crimes like robbery, snatching and also crimes against women.
On October 29, another 15 cars were requisitioned. Each van will have three personnel, including a woman and will be carrying weapons. “Areas where women’s movement is more — including malls, market areas, metro station — will be points where more intensive patrolling will be carried out,” said DCP Sinha on the launch day of the second batch of patrol vehicles, adding that vulnerable areas which have already been mapped out would also be watched over.
While the communications department needs more personnel on the job, answering calls and dispatching help, these vans may allow help to reach the crime scene quicker. PCR call centres are a critical lifeline in a city with its fair share of crime.
This article was first published in The Patriot.