'Tourism Police' is a special cell formed by the Kerala Police to ensure the safety and security of tourists arriving in the state. Recently, the Kerala Tourism Department honoured the Tourism Police for its exemplary track record in serving tourists. It was V B Rasheed, a sub-inspector attached to the Mattancherry police station, who was selected for the award.
According to Rasheed, Tourism Police sets an example by implementing several people-friendly programmes.
In Kochi, the Tourism Police functions under the Kochi City Police and the personnel sport a uniform comprising blue shirt and khaki pants. Their duty is to ensure that all services sought by tourists are made available.
"Tourism Police deal with the security of travellers to the area under three local police stations – Mattancherry, Fort Kochi and Kumbalangi," says Rasheed. "We intervene in complaints related to tourists and register cases. As Tourism Police cannot directly register cases, the local police stations are involved in the process."
Numerous films have depicted Mattancherry and Fort Kochi as hubs of drug dealers and the underworld. This is not true, attests Rasheed. "Many people, influenced by films, have developed the impression that Mattancherry is a dangerous place. However, only three or four drugs cases are reported from Mattancherry and Fort Kochi every year," he says.
Foreign tourists too have praised the peaceful atmosphere existing in the tourist spots of Kerala, according to the award-winning policeman.
The services of Tourism Police are available at all major tourism spots in Kerala and travelers can directly approach the officers. The police often take the initiative to guide visitors who have lost their way at the destinations. “Programmes have been launched to help stranded tourists during hartal days and provide transport for visitors needing it during odd hours,” says Rasheed.
"Inform us about incidents like theft and sexual assault immediately; we are alert round the clock," he informs.
Tourism Police are deployed during day as well as night at major tourist attractions in Mattancherry and Fort Kochi. Closed-circuit television cameras have been installed at crucial spots and all activities are watched.
The police are now focusing on homestays, hotels and guest houses which provide accommodation for tourists. Regular checks are carried out there and instructions regarding security are given to homestay operators.
Tourist attractions where garbage has accumulated are cleaned by the Tourism Police with the support of various organisations.
Rasheed has been attached to the Tourism Police for four years. Initially, no arrangements were in place to offer services efficiently to the tourists. So the social media was roped in to implement the programmes to help tourists. A WhatsApp group named 'Guest care' was launched which had the local police officers and homestay operators as members. This enabled tourists to directly contact the police to file complaints.
Another advantage was that quick response was ensured, says Rasheed.
"Police patrolling is carried out from 9 am to 1 am and officers will reach the areas where their services are needed promptly. Tourists need not come to the police station to file complaints," he adds.
A major initiative launched by tourism police is the preparation of a tourism route map marking around 250 homestays at Mattancherry and Fort Kochi.
Another issue that comes up before the Tourism Police is loss of important documents of tourists like passports. In such cases, the officers contact the FRRO (Foreigner Regional Registration Office) and ensure a smooth travel for the tourists to their country.
The C-Form was issued to collect information regarding foreign tourists arriving in the state. However, the process was a long-drawn one. To save time and effort, a meeting of homestay and hotel operators was convened by FRRO and District Tourism Promotion Council. A decision was arrived at to entrust the homestays and hotels with the task of collecting the details. The C-Form should then be registered by these operators with the FRRO. In case any tourist informs that his passport or other documents were lost, an inquiry will be conducted by the tourism police along with the FRRO.
The international tourism police station and museum was opened at Mattancherry in February 2010. It was the first such station in Kerala. ''A de-addiction centre was planned on a plot belonging to the police department. However, the project did not materialise due to various reasons and a police museum came up,'' reveals Rasheed.