On Monday, terrorists stormed a police station in Gurdaspur, Punjab, resulting in a 12-hour shootout and seven casualties. While the Punjab police eventually overcame the attackers, it came at great cost — they lost four of their own, including a Police Superintendent.

Tragic as it is, the death of SP Baljit Singh is yet another instance of a breakdown of Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) while tackling terror attacks. Had the police followed procedure, they would never have lost such a senior official.

It was a similar story during the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, when three senior police officers, Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare, Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte and Encounter Specialist Vijay Salaskar lost their lives. While facing the threat, actions taken by the entire force betrayed panic in the absence of adequate training or SOP.

As per the current SOP in Maharashtra, during any terror attack, a local police team is to be sent to the spot to gauge the situation and take necessary precautions in the surrounding areas. However, at no point are the senior ranking officials supposed to enter the melee personally. Following this, the Quick Response Team is to be rushed for a counter-attack, until the Additional Director General of the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) informs the Central government and takes a call on whether to rush commandos from the National Security Guard (NSG) to the spot or not. Not only did the Punjab Police fail to follow similar protocol, they even refused help from the NSG, saying they would deal with the threat on their own.

An overview of past attacks across the country will reveal the same pattern — utter disregard for procedure during crises. What’s worse, investigations are also hampered as information or evidence gathered by one security agency is not shared with another. Each agency wants to outdo the other and single-handedly detect the case.

The time has come, however, for the nation’s protectors to realise that when it comes to national security, they must quit competing amongst themselves, work together and, most importantly, follow the procedure.