Column by Faisal Ali Ghumman
There were times when crime against person and property turned out to be the biggest headache for the law-enforcement agencies in Punjab. The poor ratios in prevention and detection of crimes especially heinous and regular snub by courts shattered the morale and professionalism of police force owing to multiple factors including capacity issues and conventional methods of investigation.
Car theft, robbery, kidnapping for ransom, rape during an armed robbery, staged police encounters, serial killing, bank heist, terrorism and sectarian incidents were common and police investigators were usually seen baffling with the poor quality of investigation and decades-old traditional methods of interrogation and evidence collection. The non-acceptance of even admissible evidence was hardly a chance in courts while several innocents who were jailed for poor investigations became the victim of poor investigations and shreds of evidence.
With police officers shaking their nerves and doing mind-blowing exercise with the successive governments for switching to technology-based policing, the successive regimes in Punjab finally came to realize in 2008 that scientific methodology is need of the day as being successfully practised in the developed world.
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The advent of the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA), homicide units, the introduction of state-of-the-art patrolling forces in big cities, police monitoring rooms, computerization of police data, and the establishment of counter-terrorism force are some serious moves shaped in the era of Shehbaz Sharif’s two successive regimes.
Side by side, the guarding of metropolitan cities like Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujranwala and Rawalpindi with an army of cameras and integration of record of vehicles and persons at one place for round-the-clock monitoring was actually envisioned first in 2008 when Shehbaz floated the idea on the pattern of London. The idea got delayed to materialize in 2011.
From January 2017 the project under the Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA) is practically functional in Lahore with the joint coordination of Lahore police and PSCA.
A visit to the Integrated Command and Control Centre (IC3) at the Qurban Police Lines few days ago gave me a pleasant surprise that more than 8,000 close circuit cameras installed in and around the city are now watching the activities of people plying on roads, using road infrastructure, leaving/entering buildings and facilities 24 hours a day. Newly trained boy and girls are working in three shifts and assisting officials of all agencies for information.
Police, military and civil intelligence agencies, traffic police, excise & taxation department and other public service agencies have got so much help from the video recordings.
PSCA authorities give whole credit to the CCTVs of arresting a facilitator in few hours’ hunts after a suicide bomber struck a police gathering and got DIGs Captain Ahmed Mobeen, Zahid Mehmood Gondal and their staff members martyred on The Mall in February 2017. In addition, several cases of murder, robbery, theft, accidents and terrorism have been traced with the help of recorded footages.
The availability of electronic data for all law-enforcement agencies and service providers like Lahore Solid Waste Management Company, Environment Department, Water and Sanitation Agency is now at a doorstep. The centre has also taken control of traffic signals from the Traffic and Engineering and Transport Planning Agency (TEPA) for some leading city roads.
The authorities also link the revival of international cricket to the working of IC3 witnessed by the International Cricket Council delegates.
Backed by the provincial government, the authority mulls to expand its operations in city districts and for the purpose, the process of raising infrastructure is currently in progress.
The training sessions of three batches of newly-recruited police communication officers (PCOs) with IT/telecom engineering background by Turkish experts in Turkey for running the IC3 depicts the professional approach of the provincial government.
If this expensive project goes through other major cities successfully, days are not far when law and order will prevail predominantly in terms of peace and economic activities as the counter-terrorism and counter-crime surveillance is much based on this monitoring project.
The replication of London and Istanbul models in Lahore of guarding the metropolitan cities with CCTVs is no doubt a big milestone Punjab has achieved in terms of technology applications and set trend for other provinces to follow.
Let’s us pin hope that the political regimes will make lives of the inhabitants of Punjab and other provinces safer by introducing tech-based policing and maintaining its standards to achieve pre-emptive and reactive strategies.
The writer is Country Editor Daily The Business and ex-Journalist Daily Dawn