Policing a ‘technology illiterate’ community; a challenge or opportunity?

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Not long ago, few officers of the Lahore Police took an initiative to overhaul the police department by incorporating the solutions what latest technology offers today. CCPO Lahore, Amin Wains and DIG Operations, Haider Ashraf took the lead and introduced a new face of police in the city which is more citizen friendly and honest. At the same time, with the help of technology partners such as Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), Lahore police digitized various departments for the extensive monitoring of the city and securing it with the help of massive data collection and out-and-out analysis. In just a few months, the results are encouraging, and the entire effort is becoming a standard operating procedure.

Nearly half a year old initiative is now spreading wings in other districts of the province, and the young officers who became a part of the initial experiment are now nurturing the brains in other cities. Haroon Joiya, the District Police Officer (DPO) of Hafizabad boastfully takes the credit of belonging to the batch which designed the entire structure and laid down the foundation of a digital revolution in Lahore. The very young and courageous officer is eager to infuse everything he learned for changing the lives in his neighborhood.

During a brief visit to Hafizabad, Haroon joyously shared with the team of MORE Magazine few early success stories and his plans to revive the law and order situation in the district.

Although, Hafizabad is just 110 KM away from Lahore but the area is no different from any other underdeveloped and remote place in the country. However, Haroon calls it an ideal station to commence some experiments. He has built an OPs room which is a mini replica of what his seniors run in the city of Lahore. In this small room, just adjacent to his office, equipped with LCDs showing various statistics, he can monitor the entire city from there and get to know the info about each and every crime as it happens.

The 15 emergency call system which we are very accustomed to in Lahore was still a manual process in Hafizabad until March 2016 when the new DPO digitized it. Not only there is a proper categorization of emergency calls now, but also the reporting of crime has been improved.

The emergency call system was so unorganized that local citizens of this district could not reach the police in time. 15 calls originating from places like Pindi Bhattiyan or Sukhekhi would reach us through Shaikhupra. With the help of PTA, we have managed to receive 99% of the calls on our system”; Haroon briefed about the new system.

Life in a capital city is always different from a place like Hafizabad, and so is the nature of the crime. Most of the street crimes in Lahore are about mobile snatching, robbery, and theft. However, Hafizabad’s crime map shows that crimes like illegal possessions and animal thefts are on the higher side.

Whatever the rate of the genuine call is, the local police try to respond to a call in 20 minutes. However, unlike Lahore, the police stations in Hafizabad are distant apart due to being a remote area and having lesser population. It sometimes takes 25 minutes to reach the location of a crime.

Admin Officers are the new face of Police:

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Above screen shows details about targeted offenders whereas the Admin Officer connected through Skype can be seen in the below screen

No one would wish to go to a police station and register a complaint. Who does not know that a mischievous and less educated attendant (moharrar) sitting inside the station would demand money before he listens to you? Haroon claims that those days have long gone. The newly appointed admin officers, who are much better in education and behavior, are warmly welcoming the people. They carefully listen to the complainant and register the complaint right away with a commitment to redress the matter within 48 hours. In case the issue prolongs, admin officer forwards the case to his colleagues. It is the obligation of the admin officer, who is a sub-inspector by the rank, to remain in touched with the old fellas who are more conventional in working style and at the same time keep the complainant updated on the progress of the case.

Lahore police make plan to upgrade the life at police station

Zikirya, an admin officer in one of the ten police stations, describes “I forward the application to an Investigation Officer (IO) and keep an eye on him to ensure that the investigation process remains unbiased throughout the period. Due to our presence, asking for money by an IO is a way too difficult thing since he knows that someone is watching him, and any mistake can be reported directly to the DPO.”

On the front end, the concept of admin officer is too fascinating, but a more typical police on the backend is yet to believe in the transformation.

Zikirya feels that it may take some time to change the mentality and get rid of the old school of thought which has been damaging for the whole institution.

Haroon believes that the admin officers are the oxygen cylinders in this new system that Police have built. Although it is very challenging to bring a 360-degree change amongst people sitting behind the scene, however, it will change eventually.

When the new batch of admin officers come and join the force, the earlier ones will move on to more challenging assignments. They might become the in-charge of police stations where they will do the same what I did here. This will bring a real change.” Haroon stated confidently.

Cameras and trackers play a vital role:

Haroon secures the city with ten police stations under his command and two control offices, one in Pindi Bhattiyan and other in Hafizabad city.

26 police vehicles carry the trackers, and their movement can be seen on the map. They are also equipped with cameras which send a live stream to the control room. There is also a motorcycle squad for monitoring the streets which are also traceable with the help of trackers installed on them.

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Cameras mounted on police vehicle that can live stream

Haroon tells that a DPO sitting the office can now watch the live status of any raid. His officers are consistently sending him live updates on a WhatsApp group as well. He recalls a raid which his team conducted recently for picking a criminal. He was able to see each and every movement his team was making with the help of cameras and WhatsApp updates.

Not only this, his admin officers send him images of all the lockups of police stations to ensure that no innocent soul is getting abused at the hands of police staff. It is on the cards that a set of CCTV cameras will be installed for monitoring the lockups 24/7.

The entire monitoring exercise is helping police to take timely action on the complaints. During April 2016 till the first week of August 2016, some 2124 complaints have been landed in all the police stations of the district including the two DPO offices. Out of them, 1310 have undergone a legal action, and 556 disregarded on account of being fake or lack of follow-ups from the complainant.

On the other hand, street monitoring has brought very encouraging results on the health of policing. Haroon gives tremendous importance to fingerprint verification system which is helping in identifying the threats roaming the streets. With the help of a small scanning device, which his team uses on the roads to match the fingerprints of any suspects with the police database of criminals, he was able to capture a wanted terrorist just two months ago which also earned him applauds from the top policeman of the province. The central database possesses the record of 150,000 proclaimed offenders. The number is increasing as the digital data of more criminals is being added every day.

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Fingerprint Scanning Device

New Initiatives:

Haroon is very receptive and doesn’t reject anyone out of hand. He listens to the suggestions coming from his subordinates. This is the reason his subordinates not only love him but also give him enough room to experiment few extra things.

He acknowledges the fact that education standard within the department is extremely inadequate, and hence the technological advancements sometimes do not bring the perceived results. Due to very reason, Haroon ruled out the English version of “Tenant Record Software” and introduced an Urdu version with few more enhancements for detailed reporting.

He also accepts that a CDR report meant nothing to the police officers of inspector rank. Lack of training and low interest never pushed them to understand how call records of a suspected person can help scanning his/her every minute activity. “You would find an inspector carrying the print outs of CDR, but when you ask him what information it holds, a blank face of inspector would reveal the incapacity,” Haroon explained.

At Hafizabad, we have translated this ‘unknown’ data into information and made it more human readable which is now helping our teams for tracking a suspected person more precisely. “This is our own solution, and we did not take help from PITB,” Haroon claimed.

15 emergency call makes it compulsory for the response team to reach the location of an incident but what if a complainant arrives at the police station in an emergency, what response he/she should expect? Haroon has designated a motorcycle squad comprising of two constables at every police station who upon receiving the direction from the admin officer visit the location right away along with the complainant.

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View showing the tracking of a particular mobile phone user

Although, Haroon Joiya enjoys the comfort that technology has provided him over the months and improved the efficiency by miles there are attached challenges that must be addressed promptly.

Challenges:

It was surprising to know that even the new 15 emergency call system was getting abused at the hands of locals who, most of the times, call to tease the police or provide wrong information about a suspect. 

“In my opinion, unlike metropolitans, people in this part of the country have time in abundance with few or no busy hours every day. With mobile phones in almost every hand, misreporting for the sake of fun is a menace which the police also face”, Haroon showed concerns.

“We cannot be harsh, punish them or block their mobile connections as there might be a real emergency call in future from the same number,” the DPO maintained.

Haroon thinks that instead of punitive action, the only solution in his opinion is to raise the level of awareness among the public for which he soon wishes to start an awareness drive among the children of school who can even teach their elders.

Almost 98% of the calls landing on 15 are fake which reminds us the statistics of Lahore where the percentage is slightly better showing a figure of 90%.

We noticed sluggish internet speed at some of the police stations that was enough to sabotage the video communication between police stations and the DPO office. Despite 3G and 4G commencement, there are many areas, not far away from Lahore, where mobile internet is crawling and does not meet standards. Getting live stream from a remote location is still a challenge in areas like Hafizabad.

Sustainability of the system is one area which haunts the creators of this system. Being one of the pioneers, Haroon believes that all stakeholders must come on board for the system to prevail in the years to come. Only a mutual participation of all the stakeholders can take the system forward. There could be a legislation process to ensure its continuation further. The Inspector General of Police (Punjab) has already directed to make OPS rooms in all the districts of the province, and a standing order has been issued which will remain valid for next five years. The task has been assigned to DIG IT who is working on it.

Despite all the positivity the IT-based initiatives are vulnerable to both internal and external politics. The system is still in its nascent phase and may get influenced by external political manipulation in any subsequent government. Internally, the binding force is the group of few visionary police high-ups who believe in change. How compulsory it would be for the successors only depends on the fact that how early it becomes the lifeline of the entire police department through a legislative process.

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