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Introducing Smart Policing

Technology for safe cities in Pakistan: the beginning of a new era.
by Arshad Dogar

A man enters a hotel and approaches the front desk to book a room. The front desk agent asks for his identity. While his room is being processed and keys arranged, his particulars (as per his computerized identity card), are searched through a web portal. As it happens, his particulars match the police crime database and it turns out that he is a criminal wanted by the police. Soon, the police arrive and arrest the man from his hotel room. This might seem like a scene from a Hollywood movie, but this is really happening in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

The ‘Hotel Eye Software’ is one of the many technological initiatives that police in Punjab’s metropolis Lahore have started to embrace as part of Punjab Safe Cities Project.

In Brief

  • Big urban centers have big problems too, especially in developing countries, like Pakistan. Socio-economic pressure forces people to migrate to urban centers. This population explosion in big cities contributes to an increase in crime and a growing sense of insecurity. Technology can play a key role in turning these urban centers into smart ones and giving their residents a better chance at life
  • The security situation in Pakistan is significantly more complex than that of many developing countries, because the country is also fighting the scourge of terrorism. The country has all the more reason to leverage technology and that too, on a massive scale, to counter terrorism and insecurity.
  • The police in Pakistan’s Punjab province has started to embrace technology for smart policing. While this tech-led policing approach will gradually improve the law and order situation, it will take time to restore the battered image of the province’s police force.

Under this initiative to promote smart policing—powered by Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB)—almost 500 hotels of Lahore have been linked with the crime database of the Criminal Record Office. The project will be replicated across the province covering all hotels and guest houses.

“The software was installed a couple of months ago,” asserts Dr. Haider Ashraf, DIG operations, “and so far, the Lahore Police has apprehended and broken four big gangs, besides, arresting dozens of target offenders with the help of Hotel Eye software.”

Some of the other tech-powered initiatives the Punjab Police are in the process of implementing for smart policing are Punjab Automated Fingerprints Information System (PAFIS), which has so far computerized more than 100,000 fingerprints and recorded them with the district Criminal Record Offices (CROs) of Punjab. With the help of Mega Matcher device, the police can now match the finger prints against records in no time.

Other initiatives include online registration of a First Information Report (FIR), Police Complaint Center–which receives complaints through SMS and voice calls on a short code (8787) while complaints are also received online—Android-based smart phones, which are loaded with various applications for recording and documenting crime replacing the traditional pocket notebooks while being connected with central command room, this also helps in locating and tracking the on-duty police officials and their vehicles. The record of suspicious vehicles and persons can also be verified with the help of these devices.

Dr. Haider Ashraf says the PITB has been helping Punjab Police to adopt technology efficiently for smart policing. According to him, cops earlier used to prepare bogus records of raids and certification of important installations including banks, which has now been completed controlled through the new software. The tracking of vehicles and bikes of the recently launched Dolphin Squad has also reduced the police response time during emergencies.

Biometric devices have assisted police across Punjab to trace accused persons listed in the red book, black book and the proclaimed offenders’ register. Dr. Haider adds, that police plan to link the CRO branch with police stations for the issuance of police character certificates so that criminals cannot get certificates to go abroad.

The new system also allows police commanders to check the records of police officers before their postings at sensitive places.

These steps are deemed central to change the traditional police station (Thana) culture.

Read more: Connecting the Unconnected

Islamabad Safe City Project

Pakistan has been bearing the brunt of terrorism, especially after 9/11 when the country became a key U.S. ally in the War on Terror. Terrorists challenged the writ of government by targeting law enforcers and citizens in almost all of the big cities of the country.

Command and control centre of Lahore Safe City Project. Photo courtesy: Punjab Safe Cities Authority

Keeping in view the impact of technology in the developed world, especially in big cities, the Government of Pakistan also started working on the concept of Safe Cities Project. The pace of implementation was slow. However, the attack on Army Public School (APS) in December 2014 shook the whole nation. The government and Pakistan Army devised the National Action Plan to counter terrorism. The Safe City Project became a sequel to the National Action Plan for the protection of lives and properties of citizens through less force based operations but a smarter IT-based system. The project was made operational in the federal capital, Islamabad in June 2016.

Around 1,900 surveillance cameras have been installed across the capital for real-time surveillance of all important facilities, entry and exit points, roads, shopping plazas and residential areas.

A bombproof and quakeproof command and control center has also been established to transfer the video data captured through surveillance cameras. The Safe City Project, established by Chinese telecom company, Huawei, with an estimated cost of $126 million, has been made operational in coordination with the Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).

The attack on Army Public School (APS) in December 2014 shook the whole nation. The government and Pakistan Army devised National Action Plan to counter the wave of terrorism. The Safe City Project became a sequel of the National Action Plan for the protection of lives and properties of citizens through lesser force but smarter IT-based system.

Islamabad Police has started monitoring suspicious individuals and vehicles. The command center allocates police to any site in three minutes.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali, while launching the Safe City Project in Islamabad in June this year had resolved to make an end to police check posts from the avenues of Islamabad in a phased manner and continue surveillance through cameras. He said the Safe City Project would ensure innovative policing as police personnel cannot be deployed at every corner of the city.

As many as 200 officials working on Islamabad Safe City Project have been trained in China. According to a media report during training and initial phase, Islamabad Capital (ICT) effectively disrupted a series of possible terrorist attacks in Islamabad, while taking assistance from this technological system and successfully traced murders, robberies, car thefts as well as many more different crimes.

Read more: Building the Cities of Tomorrow

Punjab Safe Cities Authority

The Punjab government established an autonomous authority under the Punjab Safe Cities Ordinance 2015 for the development, construction, installation, and maintenance of the Integrated Command, Control and Communication (IC3) system throughout the province. The authority will ensure implementation of the concept of Safe Cities to meet the security challenges in the big cities of Punjab. The Punjab Safe Cities Ordinance was enacted on July 07, 2015, with its governing body, executive, and management setup.

Shehbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, inaugurated Punjab Safe City Project, on October 11, 2016 (Muharram 9) at Qurban Lines. Speaking at this occasion, he reiterated the need for “providing a crime-free and peaceful atmosphere to the citizens.” PKR 120 million is being spent on this project, which is “four times bigger” than the project in Islamabad and is the biggest in Asia.

“The Punjab government has resolved to save the lives and property of citizens through the use of technology,” says Akbar Nasir Khan, chief operating officer (COO) of the Punjab Safe Cities Project. “The existing infrastructure will be improved while the personnel will be made more effective through technology. The Safe Cities Project will definitely help return safety and quality of life to the citizens in big cities like Lahore and Multan.”

Akbar Nasir said, under the traditional law enforcement, separate departments and law enforcements agencies were responsible for dealing with different security situations i.e., fire protection, intrusion detection, traffic jams, urban violence and natural disasters like floods and earthquakes. “However under the Safe City concept, such situations are dealt through a central control and command authority, the Punjab Safe Cities Authority.” The system is based on real-time monitoring of potential emergency situations and responds accordingly in a swift manner to minimize damage and costs.

Once fully functional, the IC3 System of the authority would work as a data hub through which information would be disseminated and feedback would be received. “This will be a multipurpose solution for all security related issues,” he adds.

Similarly, the Punjab Police’s Integrated Command, Control and Communication (PPIC3) system will have the capacity of collecting data from surveillance cameras and share information with different intelligence agencies, traffic police and government departments. The latest data will help develop effective responses to any kind of security threat and emergency situation in real-time.

Threats and Controls

As per the PSCA ‘Concept Paper’, there was an urgent need for cross-agency collaboration within the country to defeat the evolving nature of threats. Police, military, intelligence agencies, and emergency services providing authorities have been asked to start sharing data with each other to maintain a comprehensive response to security threats.

Keeping in view the poor coordination among law enforcement agencies, Punjab Safe Cities Authority set out some major components of the PPIC3 to get the desired result. Under the new plan, the Police Emergency Response Unit (PERU), Dolphin—Police Emergency Motorbikes Squad, operational vehicles of police stations, traffic police in relevant locations, Rescue 1122, firefighting and other emergencies will respond to the emergencies as first responders under a measurable response framework. It will help reduce loss to human life and property.

The PPIC3 will monitor the suspicious and criminal activities in the city through high-tech CCTV cameras, vehicular cameras, miniature cameras and dynamic event cameras. These cameras will help monitor the law and order situation to counter terrorism and monitor crime hotspots. The cameras will also have the capacity of facial recognition so that the miscreants can be readily identified.

The latest cameras and tracking system will also help monitor officials and officers of police and other law enforcement agencies. They will be held accountable for any kind of negligence through an evidence locker system.

Punjab Safe City Authority will be able to control traffic signals while the surveillance cameras will recognize digitalized number plates so that tickets (challan) can be sent to the homes of violators over traffic violations with evidence. Under the project, variable message signs will also be displayed for the guidance of commuters in case of congestion on roads.

According to the Concept Paper, it’s envisaged that roughly 20 percent of crimes such as rioting, destruction of public and private property, 28 to 30 percent of vehicular crime, and 15 to 20 percent reduction in crimes against property such as house burglary, robbery, and street crime would be reduced in the first five years of operation with the help of PPIC3 Program.

According to Akbar Nasir Khan, the Punjab Safe Cities Project will be completed phase-wise by the end of 2017. Initially, the project will be completed in Lahore in three phases with an estimated cost of $120 million. Overall, 8,500 surveillance cameras will be installed at 1,600 locations including public roads, entry and exit points, VVIP routes, crime hotspots, key infrastructure, institutions and public places. Moreover, 800 vehicles will be equipped with cameras in the city for obtaining video streams from various locations. Besides 100 miniature cameras,  250 dynamic event cameras will also be installed in the city. In the first phase, around 1,000 cameras will be installed and the project will be made operational on a trial basis.

Under the Punjab Safe Cities Project, 8,500 surveillance cameras will be installed at 1,600 locations, including public roads, entry and exit points, VVIP routes, crime hotspots, key infrastructure, institutions and public places.

At least 361 communication specialists and police communication officers, including 25 women, have been hired for the Punjab Safe Cities Project while 300 more officials will be recruited on an open merit basis, says Akbar Nasir.

During May this year, while addressing the contract signing ceremony between Chinese telecom company, Huawei and Punjab Safe Cities Authority, Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif had said the project would be expanded in five other big cities of the province including two cities of South Punjab. These cities are Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan and Bahawalpur.

Akbar Nasir said Punjab Safe City Project was the world’s best economical project and resolved to make the first phase of the project operational in October this year. “Lahore city is ranked at number 27 among the largest urban cities in the world and will soon be included in the list of Safe Cities of the world,” he claimed. He also resolved to bring international cricket back to Pakistan in 2017 by providing foolproof security to the visiting teams through state-of-the-art Safe City Project.

Read more: Building Smart Cities in Pakistan

He claimed, the new system would help provide foolproof security to VVIPs while not hindering the flow of traffic. The Punjab Safe Cities Authority had taken all stakeholders including police, law enforcement agencies, courts, media and public on board to get the desired success.

As a case study, the experts of PSCA visited London, Turkey, Paris and China and reviewed their systems in detail to produce the best project in Pakistan. “As the project of Islamabad Safe City was a first in Pakistan, PSCA has learned from their experience as well,” he added. According to him once completed in all big cities of the provinces, these PPIC3 will also be integrated with each other.

“The Punjab government has resolved to save the lives and property of citizens through the use of technology. The existing infrastructure will be improved while personal will become smarter through technology.” Akbar Nasir Khan

Overview of the Safety Cities Projects Across Pakistan

A comprehensive plan has been prepared to make Quetta and Gwadar safe cities as well. The project will cost PKR 10 billion and the provincial government has already approved PKR 3 billion for this purpose. Director General of Information Technology Khalid Sher Dil, during a meeting held with Chief Secretary Balochistan, said the two cities would be made safe by installing laser cameras, automatic number plate readers and RFID security equipment. Sher Dil also said 1,400 security and vigilance cameras would be installed at all important points of Quetta, including entry and exit points, while 465 cameras would be installed at 136 places in and around the Gwadar. In addition, he said, wireless towers would be installed.

Earlier this year, the Sindh government officials informed Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights that it was initiating Karachi Safe City Project with a cost of PKR 4 billion. In a related development, recently the Sindh government also sought the Punjab government’s cooperation vis-à-vis provision of the PITB-developed software of human resource management system, complaint system, police station record management system, and criminal record office system.

Similarly, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government plans to initiate “Peshawar Safe City Project” to put in place a modern and sophisticated security system of international standard in the provincial metropolis.

The government has already adopted a number of technological initiatives to facilitate citizens. KP police have also been facilitating citizens through smart policing including online registration of complaints.

Personal Staff Officer to Inspector General of Police KP, Mr. Ashfaq says the plan of Safe Cities Project for its big cities, especially for Peshawar, is in the pipeline. He added several meetings and discussions have been held with the stakeholders in this regard. The work on the project will be started soon, he maintained.

Arshad Dogar is a crime reporter at Pakistan’s leading English daily The News International. Dogar is also Alfred Friendly Fellow under which he worked at Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh, PA, United States.


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