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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.

Tipping Point

I’ll start with a well known story. In Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. A poor man is pushing his cart load of fruits and veggies down a dusty road to the market where he would sell his wares and after paying off his daily debt for their purchase, he can save some money to support his family. He has been working the small business since his father died when he was a little child.  It’s a daily routine. But today he is stopped by the police who say they are going to take away his weighing scales because he has violated some regulation. He knows the police is shaking him down but he has no money to bribe them. The police slap him and insult his dead father. They take away his cart and scales. He goes to the town office to complain. But no one hears him. He is humiliated, feels powerless and leaves. He return with a can of fuel and outside the town office lights a match and immolates himself. This particular humililiation on Dec 17, 2010, which caused Mohammad Bouazzizi to self immolate, sparked widespread protests, police actions against protesters and after the death of Bouazzizi on Jan 14, 2011, spiralled into what is now known as the Arab Spring-not only in Tunisia but also Egypt, Libya, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain. 

All of us in India can identify with this story-the oft repeated scenario of street level corruption and misbehaviour by the municipal and police authorities is a well known fact of life especially for the less privileged. The statistics of the Maharashtra ACB shows that out of 1226 bribery/trap cases registered in 2015, 391 were in the Revenue dept, 366 in the Police dept and 89 in Municipal corporations. And such statistics is surely only the tip of the iceberg for actual street level corruption, and it eats into the little bit of earnings of the common man and the poorest sections. According to the 2006 report of the Arjun Sengupta Committee on Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihood in the Unorganised Sector (for the period 1993-94 to 2004-05), 836 million people in India lived on less than ₹20 a day incomes!! At the highest levels in government, however, we see that there are strong leanings towards making policies to enhance and spread out the earnings and savings base in the population, like the Prime Minister’s JanDhan Yojana to enable the poorer sections of the people to participate in the India growth story. 

 Following is a quick glimpse of the income disparity in India from 2004-05 to 2011-12.


India is therefore at a delicate stage where the potential to break out of poverty is within reach. Yet there is a critical need to ensure that we do not allow the small ticket but widespread corruption to reach the tipping point for disruption of public peace (like it happened in December, 2012 with the Nirbhaya rape case). And for this, the police and municipal/revenue departments have to give focussed attention to showing no tolerance to corruption. 

On this background it is important to draw some lessons from the Arab Spring. My view:

1. In our developing economy, with wide and visible disparities in income distributions, the visible government at the street level is the police and civic authorities, 2. High handedness and corruption by this segment of government can push the perceptions of inequality and deprivation of the large chunk of population over the precipice into violence, 3. It does not need any one major event to cause such catastrophic ripple effects as the Arab Spring-a daily, routine act will do, 4. The cascade of such events is difficult to foresee and hence difficult to control. 

Solutions: Focus is needed on control over street level corruption by revenue and police authorities. This can be approached through e-governance projects which improve transparency over allocation of resources by civic authorities and also actions by police. Simultaneously, a legal review is needed to rethink on need to ascribe criminality to various deviant acts in the laws enforced by the civic and police authorities-similar to the overhaul on financial laws done by the FSLRC in 2013. 

Welfare of Policemen

Working or being on duty for extraordinary number of hours everyday and on holidays and not having anything which can remotely resemble a work life balance, is the story of the Indian police, especially at the lower rungs from the Constable to the Inspector. Added to this woe, is the nature of work. 

To give an example from a memory which has remained imprinted in my mind-I was on night round as a DCP in Mumbai city sometime in 2002-03 and it was around 2-2.30 in the night when I asked my driver to take me to Powai Police Station. That  Police Station in those days was run from a small makeshift structure near a drain and infested with well fed mosquitoes. The Duty Officer was attending to a lady and her father. Their complaint was that after having lodged a case of marital harassment under section 498-A of the IPC with the Police Station a month ago, the lady was not allowed to enter her husband’s home and she was staying at her parents’ home since then. Her father was insistent that the Duty Officer take the lady to her husband’s home at that hour of the night right away and ensure that they do not evict her again. The Duty Officer was patiently explaining to them that they had taken all legal actions including arrests of the accused in-laws and that they needed to follow a process of hearing the other party to bind them to certain actions under preventive sections of law. He was also assuring them that the police will still help out first thing in the morning. But they continued arguing. I watched from a distance and I remember feeling awed at the officer’s patience. 

This is a feature on any work day for a policeman-need for humongous amount of patience to continuously deal with people and their problems with no surety of having any me-time or family time even after 12 hours of work. Obviously, this is a recipe for mental and physical ailments for the policeman as well as his family. 

To my pleasant surprise, I found that despite the many handicaps in terms of poor home environment and lack of opportunities and lack of funds even, there are many police children from Maharashtra Police who are doing higher studies in premium professional colleges like IITs, NITs, Medical Colleges and National Law Schools. 

So how does the department take care of its men and women and their families? 

The Welfare department of every Unit in Police raises money through compulsory contributions from the salary of its personnel at all levels, public donations, organising cultural programs or running commercial activities like flour mills, petrol pumps, grocery shops which are run by the police personnel on their premises. The profits from these activities are utilised for loans or grants for expensive medical treatments of family members(for illnesses which are not covered under the government scheme) or for operating facilities like crèches at Unit HQ, constructing Rest houses for overnight or short stays etc. 

However, the raising and utilisation of funds for welfare is not uniform and efficient(for example, there are no standards for running clean and wholesome crèches). The Police department needs professionally run crèches at most workplaces since there is a substantial number of women in police and in the supporting clerical staff, there is need for healthy and environmentally positive atmosphere in the form of gardens/recreation facilities in the Police Lines which house police families, there is need for supplementation in school education through classes for English language for police children in the Police Lines, there is need for skilling in IT for jobs for college going students, there is need for small and large gyms in Police Stations for enabling the policemen to exercise while on duty. 

For the most effective police welfare, all these needs must be addressed professionally rather than the current in-house manner of addressing welfare requirements. And in this, the society needs to step forward. One way to put in place a professional welfare architecture for Police is if the CSR provisions of the Companies’ Act 2013-which mandates annual utilisation of 2% of average 3-preceding financial years’ net profits of large Companies towards the Company’s Corporate Social Responsibily-can be used for operating crèches, job counselling centres, educational coaching, gyms etc and creating and maintaining gardens in Police Lines. The critical point is that the facilities should be operated through professionals directly by the Companies concerned or their Foundations and not by putting money into the Police Welfare kitty. 

So for the optimum welfare of policemen, ideally what should happen is this-1. CSR funds from Companies should professionally run a significant number of activities as are permissible under the Companies Act, for police families, across all districts, while 2. the Police department’s own Welfare Fund should be used to ease financial burdens on police families, due to higher education or costly medical expenses, through scholarships, grants or no-interest loans, and to create police work related relief measures like mobile canteens, rest houses etc, i.e for activities which cannot be operated through CSR.

Policemen would gratefully serve the society better once their basic human anxieties for their family’s wellbeing and their health are met-by the joint efforts of the department and the society that they serve.                                                                                  

From Ideas to Actions

I’m back with the Police department after a very enjoyable deputation stint with CIDCO. I’ve been thinking about what I can do from my current position in the State Police HQ to implement the ideas that I’ve been blogging about.

Interestingly, I found an order of the Ayush dept of Government of India, which mentioned that the government will fund police departments at the district level across the country for better health of policemen through yoga. The funding was substantial too – monthly payment for the yoga teacher and for record keeping and a one time grant for fitting out a location for the yoga classes, in each district that would take part in the scheme. This will be a great idea to implement in two ways-1. Daily yoga classes for police and their families in Police Lines in every district-it would be great for their health and the benefit should be measurable, and 2. Daily morning meditation (strictly secular, no-chants) open to public, at a public place like a municipal garden etc especially in geographical areas which experience frequent public order disturbance-this would again be good for the health of policemen if people become calmer and there are fewer law and order situations for the police to handle. Point no 2 should also be measurable. The critical to-do here is to be able to engage with institutions of repute in yoga and meditation for implementing the program in every district in Maharashtra. I would eagerly wait to see the results on both these counts, in a few years!

Another useful thing to do, is to handhold till it takes root, the budgetary funding of police stations in every district of Maharashtra. The government order needed to make this a reality, already exists. A 2006 Maharashtra government order had enabled the Police Station In-Charge to be made a Drawing and Disbursing Officer(DDO) for incurring office expenses and for payment of the police station telephone bills. Strangely, this order has been implemented-only in little measure though-in only one district in Maharashtra till date.  It will indeed be an empowering thing for the SHO to have government funds at his/her disposal to run his/her police station on a day to day basis. It may also have a bit of impact on ‘ necessary corruption’!

I think another very creative thing to do would be to encourage SPs in various districts of Maharashtra to ideate on community policing projects for their areas, prepare project proposals and send these proposals to government for approval of budgetary funds. I’m sure there will be enough enthusiasm from the young officers on this. If sustained over four-five years, budgeted community policing/preventive policing projects could bring about better rapport of police station officers with the people, reduce local crime and also earn greater respect for their work.

I think these and such to-do’s can be common targets for police departments across all states in India. And importantly, they are completely within the capabilities of the police departments themselves to do.