By Muhammad Arshad
LAHORE: It was a pleasant Sunday evening of April 15, 2018 when Arif Khokhar of Garden Town, Lahore, along with his family, left for Islamabad.
As he reached near Saggian Toll Plaza near Lahore to enter the motorway for Islamabad, two robbers intercepted his car and held them hostage at gunpoint. The robbers looted cash and valuables from the family and ordered them to leave the vehicle. Now driven by the robbers, the car had hardly moved few meters when the two teams of smartly dressed Dolphin Squad appeared from nowhere. Taking positions immediately in a highly professional manner keeping in view the protection of the passersby and the family, they compelled the robbers to surrender. They got the custody of the car and recovered cash and other valuables and handed it over to the family.
All this was recorded in the CCTV cameras installed in that area by the Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA). In fact, the Dolphin Squad teams were dispatched as the officials of PSCA were monitoring the car snatching bid in real-time through the CCTV cameras.
The question is whether it was possible earlier. The answer is: No. But again, all this did not happen overnight. It’s been almost four years now that the Punjab government started working on technology based reforms to improve the much criticized policing in the province.
Talking to Data Stories, SSP Operations Lahore Muntazir Mehdi said technology-led initiatives had been helping improve working-cum-behavior of the police force besides abridging the gap between police and the public. He quoted the above mentioned example in this regard.
Muntazir Mehdi said former DIG Operations Dr Haider Ashraf was the man behind the increasing use of technology to curb crimes in Punjab. He said, powered by the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), the police introduced many technology based initiatives over the years such as Hotel Eye Software and Tenants Registration System which have started yielding remarkable results. He went on to say only through Hotel Eye alone at least 9,000 criminals have been nabbed.
Explaining the Hotel Eye Software, the SSP said the software was installed at the computers of every hotel reception and was connected with online record of criminals. Once someone enters his/her CNIC or records thumb, the individual’s police record, if any, pops up at the screen.
The SSP further said this particular software had also helped fighting terrorism. He further said the Tenants Registration System now had online verified record of 502,632 tenants and added with this help the police had so far traced 11,996 persons having criminal record.
Under its Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) project, the Punjab government introduced has planned to install at least 8,000 CCTVs at important installations and major roads in Lahore. These are linked with Punjab Police Integrated Command, Control and Communication Center (PPIC3)–a huge setup with massively big screens. So far 5,000 of these cameras have been installed in different parts of the provincial metropolis.
The PPIC3 has started serving three purposes including surveillance, traffic management and quick response to emergencies. The above mention car snatching bid which was foiled by police was actually a well coordinated work under the PSCA and PPIC3.
However all is not well. The police response on its emergency helpline 15 is still pathetic. There are frequent and common complaints against police for not reaching crime scene in time. Therefore, this has been resulting in surge in street crimes and house robberies. At least four incidents of car lifting, 12 of bikes theft and 40 incidents of street crime are being reported on daily basis in Lahore alone.
A lawyer, Imran Ranjha, has a totally different view on the use of technology by Punjab Police saying, the layman was being deceived more sophisticatedly as compared to the old system.
According to him the technology led initiatives have not brought any change to the life of a common person. He further said the government had improved the façade of the department by appointing front desk officers but still the complainant has to grease the palms of cops to get FIRs registered.
Imran questions what benefit a victim can get from registered FIR data which the police has made available online. He suggests timely registration of FIRs urging the police high ups to direct divisional SPs to actively check their systems to ensure timely action against the reported crime.
The story doesn’t end here as the Police department has yet to introduce mechanism to keep a check on Investigation Officers (IOs). People still have to visit police station several times to get their grievances addressed.
A citizen, Ashfaq Khan, said police high ups at Central Operations Room could monitor action or inaction over complaints but it seemed no action was not being taken over inaction of the IOs.
“My complaint regarding a lost mobile phone was closed in the system on the plea that the complainant (I) did not pursue the case but sadly this is not true,” he added.
Similarly, not even a single women police station could be added in the existing infrastructure. Imran said female victims were mocked at male police stations. A few dare to file their applications as most of the victims still prefer keeping silent instead of reporting the crime due to the prevailing male dominated police stations.
Our investigation has revealed that at the Operation Management Center (OMC) officials are overburdened as one official has been assigned over 40 cameras to monitor during his/her shift which has been resulting in poor surveillance.
However, SSP Investigation Mubashar Maiken has a firm belief saying technology has been helping police a lot in tracing the criminals. “Today we are tracing mobile phones used in crimes and are arresting criminals through Call Data Records (CDRs),” he said while explaining advantages of technology in improving overall police performance.