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Smart Cop on the Beat

Dr. Haider Ashraf is the deputy inspector general (DIG) operations, Lahore. He also serves as a commander of the Punjab Police’s Integrated Command, Control and Communication (PPIC3) system recently established under the Punjab Safe Cities Authority. He is credited with pioneering technological initiatives that are changing the traditional police precinct (thana) culture in Punjab. He spoke to MIT Technology Review Pakistan, shedding light on technology-aided policing to curb crime, fight terrorism, and maintain law and order.

Is technology helping prevent crime?

The number of street crimes has fallen by 30 to 40 percent since the adoption of technology based projects. Now, we identify and map crime hotspots, and beef up patrolling in troubled areas accordingly.

A new patrolling force launched last year under the name of Dolphin Squad is also benefitting from these initiatives. So far, the squad has recovered 68 stolen cars, 78 stolen motor bikes, and caught two motor bikes with fake number plates.

During routine patrols, the Dolphin Squad impounded 29 suspect vehicles and 93 motor bikes, besides detaining 94 suspicious persons for further investigation.

Read more: Transforming Policing Through Technology

They recovered 40 illegal pistols, six rifles, two pump action guns, two Kalashnikovs, 20 magazines, 300 live bullets, 100 cartridges, and a dagger. Different teams of Dolphin Squad also helped recover 21 stolen cell phones, PKR 111,000 in cash, two watches, a gold locket, and electric wiring worth PKR 40,000. Since its launch, the squad has successfully tracked down two proclaimed offenders, two target offenders (wanted), and a court absconder as well.

However, security arrangements at public spaces and gatherings have lately taken precedence over crime prevention. Lahore police mostly remain engaged in providing security to citizens during religious gatherings in muharram, at the annual tablighi ijtema at Raiwind as well as protests. Last year, 4,000 cops were deputed for security at the tablighi congregation and 1,000 for security of Sikh pilgrims visiting the city. It diverts police resources from other important tasks.

So, there is a shortage of staff. Can use of technology sort out the problem?

Source: Police Department

Technology has not only helped us protect the lives of our policemen, it has also helped cope with staff shortages. Ideally, there should be a cop for 450 citizens. However, the current strength of the city’s police force is far below this international standard. Lahore police has only 27,000 police officers. There are 150,000 cops available for the rest of Punjab.

We are now documenting our police force under a Human Resource Management Information System (HRMIS).

Is the use of technology just confined to Lahore?

Lahore police was the first to embrace technology-based initiatives for smart policing. Others are now following our lead. With the help of the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), we are replicating the Tenants Registration System and similar tech-powered initiatives in other districts of the province.

With help of its Tenants Registration System, the Punjab police have tracked down 200 people with criminal history. Up till now, 41,000 tenants have been registered through the software.

In Punjab, we are also keeping an online database of incidents of sectarian hatred, violation of the Loud Speakers Act, and wall chalking.

What about coordination with other law enforcement agencies, like traffic and rescue services, for example?

The use of technology is helping us bring all stakeholders of law enforcement on one page by enhancing coordination among different agencies.

Earlier, Punjab police had to follow a lengthy procedure to get even basic details or pull data of terrorists and criminals, but with the use of technology we can now pinpoint the location of any suspect for immediate action.

Law enforcement agencies (LEAs) have been implementing the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism through the use of latest technology. Suspects are being identified using biometric machines integrated with the Criminal Record Office (CRO) database. Other law enforcement agencies are also sharing data with the police. This data is made available to police personnel via android smartphones. The cops can now identify those added to the fourth schedule for involvement in anti-state activities in real time. This facility is also helping us keep watch on Afghan refugees and seminary students to take timely action in case of any untoward incident.

Punjab police has also been conducting combing operations in coordination with other agencies. Following the March 2016 attack at Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) started tracing handlers of the suicide bomber with help from different government agencies. The force conducted geo-fencing and worked on the fourth schedulers list. Eventually, it managed to unearth a massive arms licenses scandal through the use of technology. The arrested suspects were involved in issuing licenses to members of banned outfits, with abetment of the District Coordination Officer’s (DCO) staff.

Moreover, all emergency services including Rescue 1122, Edhi Foundation, Fire Service, and Bomb Disposal Squad are being integrated under the Punjab Safe Cities Project to improve response time and provide timely help to people in distress.

What about the rest of Pakistan? Are other provinces on the same page too?

Not yet. Other provinces have yet to put in place integrated command and control systems. However, once the Punjab Safe Cities Project is implemented fully, provinces will be better able to coordinate and share information among one another.

The number of street crimes has fallen by 30 to 40 percent since the adoption of technology based projects. Now, we identify and map crime hotspots, and beef up patrolling in troubled areas accordingly.

The police are also benefitting from technology in combing operations underway as part of the National Action Plan against terrorism. Policemen now carry biometric machines connected with the National Database and Regulatory Authority’s (NADRA) system to ascertain the identity of suspects. Once a suspicious person’s name is found in the police database, prompt action is taken against them.

The quantum of punishment can now be determined through POLCOM—a software developed to keep an online record of all registered first information reports (FIRs).

Read more: Assessing Forensic Science Landscape in Pakistan

What about the police response time during emergencies? Has that improved too?

Source: Police Department

The police used to take around 25 to 35 minutes to reach a crime scene but now it takes no more than seven to nine minutes to do so. So, yes, it has definitely improved. The first responders have to check into the online system once they start moving toward a crime scene, and then again on reaching the scene. This also allows real-time tracking.

We are also getting feedback from citizens through a robocalls system to monitor Dolphin Squad’s response time. The system has been developed for us by the PITB.

What are your priorities under the Punjab Safe Cities Project?

We’re hoping it will help revolutionize the traditional police culture. The IC3 system implemented under the project is based on the one implemented by police in London. Our Operations Rooms will soon be integrated with the IC3 system as well. The project will also enhance coordination between the police and various emergency services like Rescue 1122, fire fighters and disaster relief.

We have installed 8,000 high definition Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras covering every nook and cranny of the city. These cameras will help the police spot suspicious activities and take necessary action.

With real time streaming from these cameras, the police will be able to monitor vehicle movement on most major roads as well.

Earlier, there were very few places in the city with CCTV cameras. And, the police could only retrieve footage from these cameras once a crime had already been committed.

The video conferencing feature allows officials to report suspicious activities or objects to patrolling teams.

Anticipatory technologies will ensure that police responders are available for real-time monitoring of processions and other law and order situations. It will ensure efficient resource deployment.

Road traffic management reforms under the project will keep the public informed about traffic density on major roads, and will suggest alternative routes in case of congestion on these roads. This will minimize journey times. The system will also allow issuance of e-challans (traffic violation tickets).

We are anticipating that in the first five years of its implementation the project will lead to roughly 20 percent reduction in crimes like rioting, 30 percent in vehicular crime, and 15 to 20 percent in house burglary, robbery and street crimes.

In Lahore, the project will be underway by June 2017. It will be expanded to other cities of the province within two to three years.

What initiatives have the police taken for digital literacy of its force?

The digital literacy of the police personnel is not yet at a satisfactory level. I would say the digital literacy rate of the force is only between five to 10 percent.

With help of its Tenants Registration System, the police have tracked down 200 people with criminal history. Up till now, 41,000 tenants have been registered through the software.

I admit that most station house officers (SHOs) and other officials are still following old practices and it may be difficult to make them tech savvy. However, our message to them has been very clear that learning the use of technology is the way forward for the police force.

We have trained at least 1,000 cops including station house officers (SHOs) on automated functions at operations rooms and on use of technology based initiatives to control crimes and maintain law and order. These personnel include those serving in the Police Emergency Response Unit (PERU) and Dolphin Squad.

There are plans to prepare at least 82 master trainers who will impart trainings on use of tech-based initiatives at the police station level.

We are also planning to establish a digital library and a digital IT center at the premises under the use of Rescue 15 helpline as the latter will soon relocate to the PPIC3 center.

How are you going to monitor staff performance?

We have come up with several key performance indicators, linking the performance of the staff to prevention of crimes and investigation of cases. The beat book management system is also helping monitor performance of cops.

For the PERU and Dolphin Squad, trackers installed in their vehicles are enabling us to keep track of their patrolling activities and monitor their performance. A checklist has been provided to all patrolling officers that includes a provision for vulnerable installations. Patrolling teams are required to geo-tag buildings in this category whenever they go there for a search.

A POLCOM software has been provided to commanding officers in the Lahore police. They can use the software to easily check and review cases registered under the Arms Act and others related to drugs peddling. The Investigations Wing of Lahore Police is also digitizing record of other FIRs and case proceedings. The investigation process in these cases could soon be monitored through POLCOM as well.

The Central Operations Room at the office of DIG Operations has been interlinked with six divisional operation rooms across the city for proper monitoring, analysis, and improved response time. We are also monitoring activities at the newly established front desks at all police stations of the city, from the Central Operations Room.

Timely action can now be taken against cops who deliberately deceive their commanding officers. At least 350 cops involved in criminal activities have been identified through these tech-powered initiatives. We will issue charge-sheets to them and expel them from service. We’re also monitoring performance of cops on arrest of proclaimed and target offenders.

How are you facilitating citizens?

We have come across two types of complainants. Those in distress tend to call the Rescue 15 helpline. Lahore police have launched a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) so the Rescue 15 squad can respond to such calls in a timely manner. This also enables Rescue 15 to coordinate with emergency services including Rescue 1122 and the fire brigade.

We identify the other type of complainants as those not in distress. For them, there is an 8330 SMS system to file complaints. Police respond to these complaints within a minute of their receipt. We’re also receiving online complaints at our operations rooms. There is a system in place to follow up on these complaints till they are addressed. We are in the process of developing a website to better manage online complaints.

Read more: The Role of Technology in Justice Delivery

The establishment of service centers is helping complainants avoid trips to police stations. They can submit their complaints at service centers closest to their areas of residence. This has remarkably improved accessibility.

The Punjab government has already allocated PKR 2.8 million to the Lahore police to revamp Rescue 15 helpline’s control room, along the lines of the 911 helpline in the United States. Under the upgraded system, callers to the helpline will be connected to the PSAP. From there, the calls will be forwarded to a dispatcher who will assign tasks to relevant emergency services. They will gather information about the caller and nature of emergency, and then communicate the matter to relevant teams.

I believe it will be a first of its kind emergency response system in the country. It will be replicated in other districts of the province in a phased manner.

Arshad Dogar is a crime reporter at The News, a leading English daily. He is also an Alfred Friendly Fellow and has previously worked at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh, PA.

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