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Transforming Policing Through Technology

Automation of crimes data and introduction of an electronic FIR registration and management system is strengthening the capability of police force in the Punjab.
by Jawwad Rizvi

In 2011, the Punjab province saw a deadly outbreak of dengue fever, affecting 21,685 people, of whom 310 lost their lives. To prevent another outbreak the following year, the provincial government undertook a massive dengue surveillance and eradication effort powered by smartphone-based technology. The ability to generate and compile information about breeding sites enabled its personnel to bring down dengue fever cases to a mere handful in 2012.

In Brief

  • Police Departments in Pakistan are organized at the provincial level. Of over 400,000 police personnel across the country, around 177,000 are serving in the Punjab. For administrative purposes, the police force in the province is divided into regional, district and sub-divisional levels. There is a separate command structure for cities with populations higher than half a million.
  • The Police Station Record Management System is now operational in 413 police stations across 24 districts of the province. Work is afoot to expand its scope to police stations in the remaining 12 districts as well.

This success in the public health sector triggered a series of reforms for adoption of latest technology across government departments in the province.

To suggest reforms for the Police Department, the government notified a committee headed by Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and comprising Member of the National Assembly Hamza Shehbaz, Assistant Inspector General of Police (Finance) Hussain Habib, Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) General Manager Burhan Rasool and a consultant lawyer Mujtaba Jamal.

After a round of interviews with personnel from across the police service hierarchy, the committee submitted a report to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Punjab which culminated in the approval of a Computerization of Police Stations (CPS) in Punjab project in December 2014.

The project kicked off with automation of records maintained across 85 police stations in the provincial capital of Lahore. All 25 registers with information about crimes reported daily as well as record of human resources employed at these stations were automated. The effort was led by a PITB team headed by its IT General Manager Burhan Rasool.

“In the beginning, it seemed like finding our way out of a maze with no end in sight,” he says. “We weren’t successful straight away and we faced criticism but we didn’t give up. Today, I can say without a doubt that those struggles were worth our while as they have led to automation of a huge corpus of crime data.”

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Rasool and his team at the PITB have by now successfully rolled out a series of projects for the Police Department.

Streamlining Police Administration

Police departments in Pakistan are organized at the provincial level. Of over 400,000 police personnel across the country, around 177,000 are serving in the Punjab. For administrative purposes, the police force in the province is divided into regional, district and sub-divisional levels. There is a separate command structure for cities with populations higher than half a million to effectively cater to their law and order needs.

The conventional method adopted so far for management of police records was through four record books. A Long Roll maintained at the district level contained information of the entire force in the jurisdiction; Service Book contained profiles of all personnel; Fauji Misal had back up of these profiles; and the Order Book was used to keep record of daily operations.

The PITB team has developed a Human Resource Management Information System for automation of records of all personnel in the police force. These have been cross-checked with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).

A smart phone application developed by the PITB team is enabling police officers geotag crime locations onto a web-based dashboard. This data is helping the police identify crime pockets and do time-trends analysis for hours with high and low crime rate.

Burhan says that during cross-verification of these records before automation his team came across glaring irregularities in data of around 41,000 of 152,000 personnel serving in grade 16 and below. His team found fake computerized national identity cards (CNICs) as well as mismatches in basic information including names of police personnel, their father’s names, and dates of birth. “This raised a red flag for the higher ups,” he says. “The most worrisome of these issues was the presence of fake CNICs.”

These irregularities were fixed in the process of automation of the Service Book. A typical Service Book contains personal and basic employment information of officers; their education qualifications; certified skills and record of participation in departmental sports competitions; list of trainings completed and courses undertaken; history of promotions, transfers and postings, rewards and punishments, judicial inquiries, departmental proceedings, show-cause notices issued to them and criminal record, if any; their annual leaves data; a comprehensive psychological and medical profile; an Annual Confidential Record (ACR) and a list of assets owned by them.

The database containing profiles of people with criminal history is integrated with biometric devices provided to police stations to identify suspects.

Attendance record in the Service Book gets updated automatically every day as soon as an official checks in and out through biometric devices installed at police stations.

Rasool hopes that automation of this record will help ensure transparency in recruitments, transfers and posting of officers. “This will surely raise the morale of the police force,” he says. Already, the transfer and posting matters are being taken care of through the HRMIS, he adds.

Citizen-Police Interaction

While the introduction of the HRMIS has streamlined administrative affairs in the department, other initiatives undertaken by Rasool and his team are transforming the way the Police Department interacts with citizens.
They have helped the department set up a Citizens Complaint Handling Center. An 8787 helpline lets citizens register complaints about police service either through an SMS or a voice call. All complaints automatically get lodged into a database and are assigned a unique complaint number. They are immediately diverted to a Complaints Cell at the office of the Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) where a dedicated staff of over 25 personnel addresses these grievances. Complaints can also be registered online.

Read more: Smart Cop on the Beat

The inspector general of police and regional, district, and sub-divisional officers can review status of all complaints lodged in their jurisdictions to ensure their timely redressal.

A snapshot of the dashboard available at the IGP’s office with information about completed complaints, those in process, and others pending processing.

The work needed in handling these complaints may not be anywhere close to what is required in dealing with the public everyday. These dealings form the bulk of police operations, most of them beginning with an application brought to the police seeking action over an offence. Applications needing police action get converted into first information reports (FIRs) that have to be shared with relevant courts for issuance of warrants. In the manual system, timely action on a citizen’s application depends a lot on the individual police officials receiving and documenting these complaints and taking them to the court.

To remove this uncertainty surrounding such a basic yet most important task of the police force, the PITB team has developed an online platform digitizing the entire procedure from registration of an FIR, nomination of suspects, proceedings at courts to the closure of the case. The Police Department has hired a dedicated staff on senior station assistant (SSA) and police station assistant (PSA) positions at the police station level to help walk-in complainants lodge their applications onto the online application.

As soon as a complaint is converted into an FIR, the system generates an automated SMS to the complainant with information of the police officer investigating the matter.

This Police Station Record Management System (PSRMS) is now operational in 413 police stations across 24 districts of the province. Work is afoot to expand its scope to police stations in the remaining 12 districts as well.

Another key intervention is the establishment of a Criminal Records Office that maintains a database of people with criminal history, including their fingerprints. This data is available to police investigators for search and retrieval of information. The number of entries in the database had reached close to 300,000 by January 2017, and is a work in progress as it keeps getting updated automatically for those convicted of crimes. Already in dozens of cases, suspects have been caught on identification of their fingerprints using the CRO database.

To benefit fully from these automation initiatives, police stations across the province have been equipped with handheld biometric devices enabling investigators to do on-the-spot identification of suspects.

Technology Based Interventions Aiding Investigation of Crimes

Both the PSRMS and the CRO databases are integrated externally with the NADRA database and internally with other MIS modules developed for the Police Department to streamline investigation of cases and control of crimes. These include a Hotel Eye Software and a Tenants’ Registration System for verification of particulars of those checking in and out at hotels and renting houses and apartments, respectively.

The Hotel Eye software is a web application that lets hotel staff share particulars like the CNIC number of their guests with the local police who can cross-check it with their crimes databases to spot guests with criminal histories. Between August and September 2016, this system helped the police track down around 450 criminals. In October, the government made it mandatory for all hotels and guest houses in the province to log details of their guests onto the software.

Source: Punjab Crime Investigation Reposting System

The Tenants Registration System became operational following the enactment of a law in 2015, requiring that house owners renting out their premises submit particulars of the tenants with the local police. These particulars are entered into the system that helps the police cross-check them with its crimes databases. In October 2016, a person nominated in over 30 dacoity and robbery cases in Lahore was caught from Faisalabad when he rented out a place to stay over there.

To benefit fully from these automation initiatives, police stations across the province have been equipped with handheld biometric devices enabling investigators to do on-the-spot identification of suspects. These devices have been integrated with the NADRA and the CRO databases as well as a database of Afghan Refugees residing in Pakistan. Over 652,000 biometric requests have been generated with these devices already.

Read more: The Role of Technology in Justice Delivery

From Investigations to Intelligence Gathering

The information generated in the process of investigation of crimes is organized in beat books maintained at the police station level. Each beat book compiles information about a specific crime – say robbery, theft, murder, or fraud – and is maintained by a beat officer. The beat book enables the police to keep a track of crime trends, frequency and hotspots. Since these books have been maintained manually at the police station level only, there has been no central database compiling information on specific beats and the process of retrieving information has remained tedious and time consuming.

To overcome these shortcomings, the PITB team has developed a web-based application enabling officers to enter intelligence related to their beats onto a centralized system. The use of the application is underway across the province with over 250,000 entries recorded in it already.

The CRO data is available to police investigators for search and retrieval of information. The number of entries in the database has reached close to 300,000 by January 2017, and is a work in progress.

The intelligence gathering task of the police has been further strengthened with the development of a Call Data Record (CDR) that is connected to all Base Transceiver Stations (BTS). This system allows the police to obtain record of calls made from any cell phone number under investigation in a crime. The police can retrieve data of dialed numbers, call durations, tower locations, IMEI number, and calling patterns through the system.

A smart phone application developed by the PITB team is enabling police officers geotag crime locations onto a web-based dashboard. This data is helping the police identify crime pockets and do time-trends analysis for hours with high and low crime rate. This facility has been made operational in four districts. Over 232,000 crimes have been geotagged already. This data is also being used to finalize patrolling routes in these districts.

Police Reforms in Context

These technology based initiatives have strengthened the police force’s capacity to investigate cases, gather intelligence and, ultimately, provided a framework for preventing future crimes. All of these tasks are essential to effective enforcement of the law and promotion of public safety. Whether or not this strengthened capacity is realized to its potential will also depend on the police high ups’ effective use of these new resources at their disposal to ensure transparency and accountability in the force.

Jawwad Rizvi is a Lahore-based journalist.

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