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.

Meditation and Policing

  I had enrolled for an interesting course on Coursera recently. Buddhism and Modern Psychology, taught by Robert Wright of Princeton Univ. Though the spirituality of emptiness and detachment may be of interest to only a few people, the most practical takeaway from the course was regarding the importance of meditation in bringing a sense of calm through an experiential understanding of the oneness of everything. I also thought that if practiced on a wider scale, meditation would be a very useful tool for quietening down the growing noise and anxiety of intolerance in society, and therefore a good preventive tool for the ‘law and order’ police. So to encourage meditation gatherings in public places, especially in areas of repeated conflict, can it be one manner of preventive policing methodology?

The issues of freedom of speech and police actions regarding the same, which have come to the fore from the recent JNU incident, are interesting to look at, on this background. There have been instances in the past too when questions arose on how much freedom should be protected by the police when certain kinds of public utterances can anger a section of the people and possibly vitiate public peace. This question is really more regarding the extent of tolerance by the society in general, to free speech. 

Police have a clear legal responsibility  to take actions to prevent disruptions of public peace and they also simultaneously have a clear responsibility to protect individual freedoms granted by the constitution. In a tolerant society, these two responsibilities should not conflict-at least not too often. In India, however, these conflicts have been happening and the police response has tilted more towards protecting public peace vis a vis the protection of freedom of speech. This is understandable as the police see their role primarily as keepers of ‘order’, not as social change agent. 

So to my way of looking at this problem, it appears that police needs to think outside the framework of only enforcing the laws, if any lasting and satisfactory solution is to be found. One way would be to think of ways to reduce the emotional excitability of the society. It will create a more peaceful and tolerant society.  And meditation is one such way.