Did the police really take too long?
The news is abound with the shocking narration by the friend of the Delhi rape victim as regards the efficiency of the Delhi Police. According to his report, the police spent more than half an hour arguing about jurisdiction after arriving at the scene of the event, tragically delaying reaching both the victim and her friend to a hospital. The police, however, has issued a counter statement with the following details:
The information regarding the incident was received by Police Control Room operator at 10.21pm through a phone call received on 100. Two PCR vans reached the spot at 10.27pm and 10.29pm respectively. The victims were taken in the second PCR van, which was assigned the call at 10.24pm and left the spot at 10.39pm for Safdarjung Hospital, 10 minutes after they reached the spot. According to the earlier police report, however, where the time was manually recorded, the van left the spot at 10:31pm, 2 minutes after reaching the spot. The correction to 10:39pm was made after checking the computerized log sheets.
Why this massive difference between the reports of the victim’s friend, the police officer and the actual time?
One possible explanation is that mind warps how we perceive and recollect the passage of time. Clock time and Mind time aren’t always aligned. Our perception of time is affected by factors like the emotions we’re experiencing, context we’re in, tiredness, even small factors like eye-movements and age. Take for instance, how life threatening situations alter our recollections of the passage of time – we remember the time as longer because we record more of the experience. This richer encoding of memory as a result of increased attention causes threatening events to appear, retrospectively, as though they lasted longer. Also, the emotions we experience directly affect our perception of the passage of time, and not just the recollection of it. Negative emotions make the passage of time seem longer than it is. This is a function of the brain’s most basic survival mechanism- our attention and all our mental and bodily efforts are geared towards helping us survive. The more information we record, the more equipped we are to deal with the situation the next time. We could hypothesize that the victim’s brain was recording a lot of information that could explain why it seemed so long from his perspective.
This explains the entirely natural recollection of the victim’s friend’s about length of the conversation, shrouded in a life-threatening situation of intensely high-stress. And the reverse could be hypothesized for the policemen, who, as a result of their heated discussion probably felt that time had passed much quicker than it actually had. This is not to say that the police hadn’t committed their share of follies – in not immediately using the first van that reached the spot and not reaching them to the nearest hospital, but the one designated for medico-legal cases though it was farther away.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that in the case of high-stress incidents, eye-witnesses’ and by-standers’ perceptions and memories are fallible. This is not limited to the just the sense of time but also information in most other modalities like visual, auditory, etc as they are prone to being coloured by various factors, most important of all, emotions.
The solution, however, in the case of the Delhi Police, would not be to circulate more accurate reports about the turn-around time, but to actually minimize the response time – in a situation like this, 10 minutes is simply way too expensive -it could mean the difference between life-and-death.