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July 15, 2020

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Female patrol keeps order on the riverbank

FOR Pan Dongmei, urban management and law enforcement is more than just keeping communities safe, clean and orderly. Her job with the department also involves being sensitive to the public and their individual perceptions of what’s right and wrong.

Pan, 33, is captain of a 12-member, all-female team of front-line enforcement officials in Lujiazui of the Pudong New Area.

Established in October 2017, the team’s jurisdiction covers nine office buildings, about 30 businesses, construction sites and residential complexes along a 6-kilometer riverfront area of Pudong. The members average 30 years in age and all have bachelor’s degrees. Three hold postgraduate degrees.

Urban management and enforcement officials are an often-vilified group because of the work they do. Some see them as spoilsports.

They close down illegal street vendors, dismantle unauthorized structures in apartment blocks, appear on the scene if your neighbor complains that you are making too much noise, prevent people from storing their junk in public spaces, halt garbage-sorting irregularities and confiscate illegal flyers.

Their duties keep expanding and now cover more than 1,000 law-enforcement matters. They must protect greenery and waterways in their designated area. Keep traffic flowing and monitor construction sites. Ensure that public sanitation is enforced and look out for illegal taxi drivers.

They also stop illegal fishing, street begging, unlawful parking of shared bikes and profiteers in the captive animal business.

Pan has been a law enforcement official for eight years. She and her colleagues regularly patrol the bank eastern of the Huangpu River — no matter what the weather. The area has large numbers of out-of-town visitors.

“The aim is to set a model example of law enforcement, and female officers are often capable of friendly persuasion,” Pan said. “We also tend to be more careful in how laws are enforced. We aim for urban management as meticulous and precise as an embroidery needle.”

Pan said she wants to rid the public of misconceptions.

“Many residents are not clear about the work of urban management,” she said. “They believe it is just stopping street vendors. That is wrong. They have a stereotyped, sometimes negative impression of what we do, and we want to change that.”

For example, to help businesses engaging in incorrect garbage sorting, Pan and her colleagues make repeated visits, bringing garbage-bin tags and help paste them on bins. They exercise patience as they dispense information. 

In another example, a group of elderly singers, with some members 80 years or older, triggered complaints from nearby residents and tourists in the riverfront area last summer because of the loud acoustics of the equipment they were using.

“Given the need for the elderly to enjoy some cultural life, we didn’t just rush in there and call a halt to the singing,” Pan said. “Instead, we hosted several discussions with chorus members, subdistrict authorities, police and property management authorities to find a solution.”

In the end, the choristers moved to a new venue away from the riverfront that satisfied their needs, she said.

In another case, a fisherman refused to stop fishing in an area where such pastime was banned, even after being ordered to do so by male officers.

“He insisted that it was his chief retirement pleasure,” Pan said. “A lack of communication and understanding worsened the situation.”

Pan sat down with the man for a chat, explaining the regulations to him and even drawing on some experiences from her own family. In the end, the man agreed to stop fishing there.

Pan calls it the “gentle, gentle approach.” She may seem like a softie, but she is no pushover.

“If violations continue and the soft approach fails to work, we will issue fines,” she said. “In the end, it’s necessary to safeguard the order of the city if all other efforts don’t work.”

A bar on her beat once complained about problems hailing taxis because private cars without taxi licenses congregated outside the bar when it closed at 2am. Public complaints about excessive charges from these illegal operators increased.

Pan and her colleagues instituted a strict crackdown on the illegal cabs. She and her team then had several discussions with Qiangsheng, one of the city’s biggest taxi companies. In the end the bar purchased “smart” hailing installation from the company, enabling patrons to get a legal cab with a simple click.

High-definition cameras have also been installed on Fucheng Road to capture taxi irregularities 24 hours.

No easy work

In summer, Pan and her colleagues sweat under sizzling temperature in areas along the riverfront where there are no sheltering trees.

“Our uniforms are fully soaked after patrols, and we constantly need to apply sunscreen,” she said.

Ahead of typhoon warnings, the team carefully checks outdoor billboards, facilities and construction sites to eliminate safety hazards and remind property management companies to take appropriate measures against flooding.

Pan often works night shifts, when public behavior is often not its best.

It was frustrating at the very beginning to endure cursing and even threatening behavior, but she said she has gotten used to it over time.

Recently, she spotted an unlicensed street vendor on a solo night patrol. The man was obviously emotionally unstable and was threatening to kill people. Pan patiently talked to him and learned about his broken family environment.

“I wanted to ease his anger, and after chatting with him for a while, he finally calmed down,” she recalled. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid, but it’s my job to ensure public order. I did what I had to do.”

Wang Qiyao, 34, a member of the female team, has been working as a law enforcement official for seven years.

“I walk more than 10,000 steps a day on patrols,” she said.

Wang said she had misgivings about joining urban management in the beginning, but that attitude changed.

“My colleagues are great,” she said. “We have very good working relationship. Businesses and tourists in the area understand our work, and most are cooperative. I feel a sense of belonging on the job. I feel that I am needed.”

She said the most important quality of enforcement officials is perseverance.

“We show our soft side as female officials, and a high-end area like Lujiazui benefits from that,” said Wang. “The area has many out-of-town visitors who may come from places with different urban standards about things like dog walking, trash sorting and street vendors. It takes a lot of repeated explanations to point out these differences.”


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