All posts by pradnya1964

About pradnya1964

I am an Indian Police Service Officer of the 1989 batch, serving in Maharashtra. This blog will be my 'pensieve' for thoughts on policing.

Urgently Needed: Crime Victimisation Surveys 

I was recently reading about the state of corporate governance in India and of the focussed way in which we have framed the issue for corporate regulators like the Corporate Affairs Ministry and SEBI over the years. Since 2000 and again in 2003 with 2 committees to formulate thought on corporate governance from the investor protection point of view for SEBI resulted in incorporation of certain compliances and public disclosures under Stock Exchange Listing Agreements for listed companies. In 2013, the new Companies Act was enacted which further strengthened the Board responsibilities for corporate governance. There are therefore a reasonable amount of safeguards around how companies are run-since ordinary and institutional investors are invested in them. Profitability is indeed a big driver for better regulation, as it is for innovation. 

What is the status of our other public goods-especially the state of security? From the consumer’s point of view, 1.every law abiding citizen should be able to see police as the first person one turns to in case one becomes a victim of crime-not as someone to fear and go to as the last resort, and 2. every law abiding citizen should feel a sense of safety in her city. 

Although there are a lot of anecdotal misgivings about non_approachability of police, there are no reliable measurements about the fulfilment of these consumer expectations. The data on policing is all one sided-that which the police records in their crime registers. There is no independent evaluation of the delivery of the above stated public expectation from security services of the state. 

I have been a passionate advocate for these independent evaluations in the form of annual Crime Victimisation Surveys at the police station level for many years but the cost of such surveys is apparently a factor to not undertake this program in our country. However if we want real and lasting ‘reforms’ in Indian police, money should be put on goals oriented performance and delivering satisfaction to people on the state of security. Currently the focus of financing is on shortfalls or upgrading of equipments, motor vehicles and infrastructure. Crime Victimisation Surveys can reorient financing to the deficits areas of people led demands and therefore lead to more public satisfaction with police performance. Fulfilling the funding needs thrown up from the Surveys will yield better output in police performance at the police station level-which is exactly what ‘police reforms’ sets out to do. 

Both the above stated goals are measurable for a year on year performance by the jurisdictional police stations in every city, town or village. And they will be a good metric against which to see the police dept’s statistics. The broad picture on the state of security will gradually become truer and therefore more trustworthy.  What it needs is the will to implement these reforms. 

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Rains, Floods, Disasters and Technology

Yesterday Mumbai had a harrowing night with the downpour of 300 mm of rains in one day. Many office goers stayed back at their offices and others who braved the waterlogged streets to head home were helped by local residents and Ganpati mandals and gurudwaras and mosques, with offers of food/water and shelter. Each and every time, Mumbaikars respond to calamities, with a great display of collective humane behaviour that shows the city’s citizen resilience towards facing problems.

There are reports today of the good presence of the city police on the roads through the night and their work in keeping the traffic situation in control despite very slow movement of vehicles through waist deep waters at many places. The sensitivity and responsiveness of the Mumbai Police twitter handle during the entire ordeal was really good and has been much appreciated by the users.

What does this episode of natural disaster teach us to do better next time?

1. Mumbai has more than 4700 CCTV cameras across the city. Whatever are the informative images from these cameras could be linked to the Mumbai Police twitter  handle so that situational information of what’s happening further up the road, is better communicated to the road users.

2. Electronic Board displays on roads could be increased in number substantially-again for better information dissemination.

3. Motorists typically rely on google maps to show them the fastest possible route to their destination. But in disaster times, such routes could be impassable. And they have no way of knowing that. Police can use GIS maps integrated with CCTV network as one very useful tool to periodically update and inform road users of the state of road and traffic conditions. A single map based view of the city with the ability to choose what geospecific information you want to see could be a great boon to the information hungry citizen stuck in a disaster situation. Currently, for the road users, there is no aggregation of the ground information on a map of the city. Further, traffic policemen can take photographs/videos of the traffic congestion at waterlogged sites on the roads not covered by CCTV cameras, thereby fixing lat-longs of such sites across the city on the map and giving a holistic view of the water logging and traffic congestion problem across the city. . Motorists and home goers viewing the state of road traffic on the map can then take informed decisions for travel. For the police on the road, this information can empower their man on the ground to take measures on the basis of the larger picture on the map to divert traffic away from waterlogged cul de sacs in his local area.
4. GIS map-based visual information on the Police website can additionally be used to display information on food/water/shelter sites across the city. Such information of voluntary efforts by citizens was seen to circulate on Whatsapp and Twitter last night. Aggregated information of these volunteer activities as well as the official arrangements, helps to reassure and keep calm despite a disaster situation. Electronic display boards could also display such information.

5. Hashtags for specific themes like traffic movement or voluntary aid in food/water/shelter can be used by police for collecting information and pictures from the public users of social media. This  information could then be placed on the map for users to get information relevant to their needs. Such map based aggregation of information will also be very useful to the police control room to respond with useful guidance to distressed callers.

In disaster situations, people look to government for proper information and relief. And technology can provide that single point authentic source for coordinating an effective response.

Suicides, AI and Meditation

There have been reports of some really disturbing incidents in the past few weeks. The only son of colleague government officers committed suicide-apparently with no provocation. I was browsing Facebook and I saw a trending video of a young district collector recording his thoughts and reasons for deciding to commit suicide just before he actually does that! A few days ago, I read about a popular online game which encouraged people to commit suicide as its final challenge- and many youngsters were actually doing that!!

There is a lot of concern on humans becoming too addicted to the internet, living their lives online and in the process losing the warmth and support and empathic nature of face to face human relationships. Fears of computing machines subordinating humans in the not so distant future are also often expressed. The addiction to the virtual world of the internet and the consequent information overload is so stressful to all, and especially to young minds, that the worth of an invaluable ‘life’ is not really appreciated. There is a huge need to quiet the mental turmoil of our period and for individuals to find peace within themselves.

I am currently reading Ray Kurzweil’s ‘The Singularity is near’ – his futuristic take on the exponential growth in the power of computing through machine learning and artificial intelligence, that will happen in the coming decades. He believes that we will achieve one human brain computing capability (currently at 10^16 calculations per second) at the cost of one cent around the year 2037, and then we will go on to achieve one human race computing capability (10^26 cps) for $1000 around the year 2049. He believes that technology will be used at the intersection of information and biology creating pervasive AI systems. This AI will not ‘seize power’ but integrate into humans. He talks of Nanobots, the futuristic robots circulating inside human bodies and constantly adjusting various chemical/ hormonal parameters intelligently to keep the physical body healthy. Future humans will thus have become part machine and part biological and they will be leading longer, disease free lives, thanks to AI.

So the exponential growth of computing is here to stay. But in this futuristic scenario, even if we gain in longevity and health, will we lose in terms of the individuality of our mental makeup? Our individuality is based on our individual unique set of genes and their genetic expression, creating the chemical environment for the state of our physical bodies and for our psychological makeup. If nanobots normalise everything for the optimum will we become identical to each other? Even at today’s level of computing power, our psychology at the level of society, is deeply affected and some extreme consequences are the reports mentioned in the first paragraph. I think deep wisdom is needed to guide human capabilities in computing towards a stable future for humanity. The alternative to that will be the advanced technologies being used frivolously as a game.

What kind of humanity are we evolving into – a restless, anxious and mentally disturbed race? How do we get to that point where we feel safe and at peace despite the gadgets in and around us? I think we need to feel more connected – not the Facebook friends or Linked In connections variety. But the connectedness which will give humanity inner peace. Finding time for solitude with oneself could deepen our connectedness with the universe. It will improve our lost sense of belonging and bring us a sense of peace.

I think meditation is a requirement, not an option, for today’s and future generations. Schools, universities, families – all need to set aside some time to devote to meditation. It may keep the unease and the artificiality of today’s living at bay. And give us a chance to have generosity and compassion towards each other as the foundation for a peaceful and stable society of tomorrow.

New Needs of Effective Policing

I have just returned from a tour of two Police Ranges and a Commissionerate. The tour was for an assessment of effectiveness of the police hierarchy in the districts in detecting crime. So the focus was on the yet unsolved serious crimes of murder and dacoity over the last two years.

It was an interesting tour for me as I am a pattern spotting person. It helps me see evolving new features and also to get a bird’s  eye view on the problem. So what kind of patterns are emerging in these crimes?

One impact clearly seen is that of the hugely increased mobility of people. A great thing-this improved human mobility-but the fallout on the crime of murder is in the far flung location of unidentified dead bodies. In the past, murder was usually a local or near local crime. But this crime is no more a local problem. The Sheena Bora case is a well known example.

During my visit too, a check on dead bodies which had been identified later, showed murders or motives for murder originating in far away places-the most distant originated in Tamil Nadu-a distance of  more than 1200 kms from Maharashtra!! This particular case was a clever piece of investigation but clearly, murder is no more a local problem like in the good old days. With ease of movement because of good road length across the country and also due to bettering of peoples’ overall financial status , it has become easy to transport the crime of murder across long distances and make it nearly impossible for police working in geographical silos of police stations, to be able to trace the identity or origin of the murder using prevalent techniques. Of course the picking up of clues from the spot remains the essential step for investigation, but what should be the newer way to look at solutions for this crime?

Currently, the real and effortfull activities by police to trace the identities of such victims is limited to neighbouring police stations. Some tick box efforts are made to catch the attention of the state CID which maintains state wide data of crime and criminals. But due to this factor of mobility, the newer need is for aggregation of data on recorded missing persons, at the SP, Range IG, State CID and finally at the national level, since the murdered individual is likely to have been recorded as missing somewhere far away from where the body is found. There could also be a focus on analysis of cellphone data dumps from telecom towers around the location of murdered bodies so that any outsiders visiting the area could be identified and investigated.  IT, including investigation software which picks out patterns, is the only way forward for this. Matching computerised data on missing persons with the murdered victim’s description is one of the features of the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network which is currently under various stages of implementation across all states in India. But this feature is hardly ever used.

A refreshingly different view might emerge from a time series analysis of this type of problem, for identifying patterns. From the locations of the body of victims of all murders in a district, what is the dispersal in geographical distances of the motive/place of murder, what is the density pattern regarding location of dead bodies along roads in a district, is there any pattern in the manner of disposal of the dead body and the distance to the place of origin of the crime, and so many such analytical questions can show up patterns regarding disposal sites and inform on the probable sq km area to vigorously search for unknown victim’s identity, as also reveal information to take preventive steps for improving police vigil on specific patches of road. 

The ideas emerging from this are on the increasing need for computerised crime data, its useful aggregation and pattern analysis to solve the crimes of the future.

Anger

Currently, 44000 resident and teaching doctors in hospitals of Maharashtra are on strike. The triggering issue was the latest violent attack by patient’s relatives, on the doctor of a patient who had died of chronic renal failure, in a medical college hospital in Mumbai. The medical community, on social media, is expressing their disbelief that even the Hon’ble High Court is not sympathetic to their manner of protest-mass leave-on grounds of poor security at their places of work. The Hon’ble High Court has stated that state doctors cannot resort to strike/mass leave, as a means of protest in the same manner as factory workers. 

Incidently, police routinely face mob or individual violence during the course of their duties – like enforcing traffic rules – or during public protests-which may be against deficits of service or against government policies . Many a times, policemen get injured or killed during action on such violent protests. But it is taken for granted that duty of a policeman may involve such risks! It is for another day that we may talk of risk compensation to policemen. But I want to point out the similarity in situations faced by both professions in their dealings with public ire, though the difference is that it is the job of police to face and deal with  public violence, while for a doctor, it is not. For both, however, it has become a professional risk. 

Doctors practice the most benevolent of professional roles in all humanity – that of dealing with saving and nurturing human life and health. Clearly, it is a basic need that hospitals should have secure workspaces for them. And their demand of better security in hospitals starting with visitor management, is very valid. The administrative response to that demand, that armed security will be deployed in large numbers at hospitals, however, may not be sufficient to ensure peace from violent relatives in hospitals. One must remember that, besides cures, hospitals will continue to deal with death of patients too. Armed security in large numbers, alone as a measure, will not be useful in those circumstances, to deal with affected relatives. Hospitals, like educational institutions, are peopled with a unique psychological profile. A fine tuned, multi pronged approach is required, to put in place a mechanism that will work. 

The problem, to my mind, needs to be looked at from two perspectives- 1) immediate work on well trained, sufficient number of security personnel to be deployed for effective visitor management in public hospitals. This, currently, is a visibly deficient area. The police is not the agency for guard duties, but the same should be fulfilled through non-police security agencies of the government – like the Maharashtra Security Corporation or the district guard boards or the Armed Forces retired persons Resettlement Boards. Security in public hospitals needs better resourcing. 

The second viewpoint is more important in the long term. What can public hospitals do to reduce anger in its visitors, since this is clearly a problem needing to be tackled? Can the hospital spaces, more so in areas of greater mortality, be designed differently to evoke calmness – with better seating, different lighting, more greenery/ water fountains in open spaces? Can there be better use of the existing para medical manpower, like nurses, by training them for communication with patients’ relatives and even for reducing the work-hours burden of resident doctors? I think equal importance needs to be given to psychological designing as to feet on the ground security, when solving the problem of hospital based violence. I’ve heard of pet dogs and pups being made available in some universities abroad, for students during exam times to reduce their stress. Some out of the box solutions are warranted in India too, for problems like this one. 

I am especially impressed with the work culture at Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital-a public hospital in Mumbai. It is amazing how the patient-focus is so visible there. And everyone including a lift operator is so unfailingly polite and considerate- despite the massive patient load. Do they train their manpower differently? How do they achieve that organisational culture of service?

Visualisation Tools for Police Leaders

The past few months I’ve been working on using data for better quality of decision making, better ability to supervise and for better utilisation of resources in police. As a result, two technology projects have come about – which are worth replicating in every state in the country and the central armed police force.

1. GIS based decision support project.

The Maharashtra Remote Sensing Applications Center based in Nagpur has georeferenced digital base maps for Maharashtra’s topography. These maps are on the GIS platform, and have added layers of data on top of the base digital layer. All state and national highways, district/city roads, railway lines, water bodies, forests of the state have been mapped on the base map. With help from MRSAC , we could ‘geofence’ police station boundaries on the base map for all the 1117 police stations in the state and thereafter outline the 36 police districts and 10 Commissionerates, thus creating a layer for adding crime and other police data to a map.

This layer pulls the daily crime report(DCR)data as compiled by the state crime records bureau and projects it on the map police station wise/district wise. So a visual DCR showing distribution of serious crime over the past 24 hours is available on mobile devices. Another layer called Crime Tracker has been added. This layer is based on the online FIRs recorded throughout the state in the CCTNS software. A daily web service of tabulated information on FIRs is received from the CCTNS server , and mapped on the GIS software without any further manual data entry, for a visual view of the distribution of crimes taking place-police station wise. One can check on crime across the state or Range/district or Commissionerate wise. One can check on various periods-like Crime on the previous day/week/month or year or any other designated period. Another feature is the visualisation of distribution of groupings of crimes-like crimes against women, property crimes or public order disturbances or body offences or crimes against children or crime in any other specific law or section of law.

This technology tool should enable the chiefs of various police units like districts or Commissionerates or the Railway police in Maharashtra to detect evolving police station based crime hotspots or new trends in the movement of crimes, which in turn should help them think of strategies to arrest those trends and prevent future crimes. Data based information which will now be constantly available to them, should result in more accurate guidance on crime control by the unit chiefs. And the overall better grip on crime control should yield better safety for people.

In the next phase of the project, it is aimed to make available for public, certain map based data on geographical distribution of intensity of crime. This will enable people to check on safer localities to move in for residence/business. It is also on the cards that once we are in a position to pin the exact (latitudinal-longitudinal) location of crime of every FIR on the map, the in-charge of the police stations will also be able to use this software for strategic thinking on crime control and prediction within their own police station area.

2. Business intelligence analytics for monitoring expenditure

With the help of a few young interns in the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Fellowship program, we have created a business intelligence tool on Microsoft’s PowerBI software for monitoring and comparing expenditures on various budget heads across all units of Maharashtra Police. This tool enables visualisation of fund allocations and expenditures across all Commissionerates or across all districts in a Range, on a single screen. This enables a comparative view across peer units and is expected to lead to the police chiefs paying attention to resource allocation within their units. The software tool also shows the comparative performance of units on certain parameters like expenditure per crime or per police station or per employee.

The core idea here is that budgetary allocation and expenditure should be continuously assessed for the outcomes desired. These outcomes for the police department can be: 1. Clean and properly maintained police stations and offices, 2. Control on crime, 3. Good morale of the police personnel, 4. Peaceful and safe public spaces, 5. Healthy police personnel, etc.

For these outcomes what is needed from finance is the foll: adequate and continuous spending on Wages of contractual labour and office expenses for no 1 above, appropriate per crime expenditure on rewards to police personnel, domestic travel expenses, vehicle fuel, personnel training, prisoners diet expenditure and such other heads of account for nos 2 & 4 above, also spending on community policing programs (if there is a budgetary allocation for the same) for no 4 above, immediate drawal of bills to pay dues of employees like leave compensation or off day compensation or medical reimbursement etc will achieve satisfactory performance on 3 & 5 above.

With about 90-95% of most state police budgets allocated for paying salaries, there is a great need for extracting the last drop of juice from every rupee spent on non salary items. And what better way to do this than to continuously monitor the expenditure from various budgetary grants for the desired outcomes. Technology helps to do this seamlessly.

Both these tools are available to the Superintendents of Police and Commissioners of Police in Maharashtra and their supervisory officers on the Maharashtra Police website.

Smart Roads for Smart Traffic Policing

Traffic on Indian roads-whether it is highways or internal roads is usually chaotic. It is always a challenging problem to solve a road indiscipline issue on Indian roads.  During my stint at CIDCO, I had an opportunity to work with city planners to address this problem affecting a large stretch of about 300 hectares of highly disorganised road usage leading to the JN Port.

The problem had been an old one and it would frequently erupt in the form of Rasta Rokos (road blockade) by affected villagers on the National Highway 4B and the State Highway 54 — due to fatal accidents at the wheels of the large tanker/trailers moving on these highways as well as on the internal roads of the area. There was also the constant annoyance and complaints from all road users regarding the long delays due to traffic jams caused by the illegally parked tanker/trailers waiting for the call to go to the Container Freight Stations or to the Port gates. In all, there was nothing but constant anger at the way the road movements were managed by the local traffic police, JN Port authorities, Customs and CIDCO.

The easiest scapegoat in such a situation is the police. All agencies could blame the police for poor enforcement on these roads due to corruption. The police could say the responsibility for the road congestion lay in the JN Port’s gate opening system as it was not efficiently managed. The JN Port could in turn shift the responsibility to CIDCO saying there wasn’t enough parking spaces available for these trucks/trailers outside JNP and also that the road conditions needed to be improved. CIDCO could in turn chuck the problem to all of the above players and also to Customs saying that their efficiencies and processes needed to improve. The end result was that it remained a long standing problem with no solution in sight. An inter agency issue is always a difficult problem to solve😊.

The answer lay in making it less attractive for the trailer drivers to park illegally on these roads. Raising penalties under the Motor Vehicle Act is one way. But this was not possible without escalating the issue to Govt and legislature. So thinking outside the box, we in CIDCO decided to take an engineering and behavioural route to solving the problem.

The problem taken up to solve was that of illegal parking on the internal roads which led to the Highways. Here, trucks and trailers would park on roads awaiting Customs checks or further instructions to move to the Port. The roadside parking was at no or low cost because of the low risk of being challenged by the police and then even if penalised, the miserably low fine under the law.

The movement of large vehicles on these roads would lead to grisly accidents, poor road surface despite frequent repairs due to the heavy vehicular load and also unnecessary introduction of transitory people like drivers and cleaners into the roadside villages causing crime.

All roads in the 300 hectare zone outside the JN Port were surveyed for creating a closed loop congestion management plan. All entry/exit points to/from this zone were identified. Controlling a mere 4-5 points in this zone by structures like toll plazas, was found adequate to create the required closed loop for controlled entry and exit to and from the JN Port. All the official parking areas created by CIDCO and by the commercial establishments inside this zone were identified for connecting them on an IT platform with the entry/ exit plazas. Also the maximum travel time for transiting through this zone was assessed.

The plan envisaged constructing ‘congestion management plazas’ which would have computerised capability to time entry and exit of vehicles at the 4-5 entry/exit points of this zone. The interesting feature of these plazas was that there would be free entry into the area and free exit too if the truck/trailer exited within the defined travel time or had parked in an official parking area inside the zone (the entry to the parking spaces inside the zone being e-connected to these plazas on a common platform) so that there can be a straight through passage for the compliant vehicles. Any deviation would be payable by a congestion management fee at the exit point plaza.  Further, since the problem of congestion was only on account of large vehicles, all small vehicles would be exempt from this fee based system and would have a straight through passage at the plazas.

Additional measures like height barriers for making smaller village roads inaccessible to truck/ trailers, and rumblers and road signage at accident prone sites, were put in the zonal plan.

Penalizing deviant drivers regarding road usage is an important behavioural tool to keep public roads in good condition and free from traffic jams. It is part of police enforcement actions under the law. But there are many difficulties in its enforcement by the police-from manpower shortage to lack of towing facility especially for the larger truck/ trailer type of vehicles, to lack of adequate land in many congested urban centres for parking these towed vehicles. Design of smart and locally suitable systems for traffic and congestion management is what will help better enforcement of road rules.