The Future of Policing

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The Future of Policing

Make way for Artificial Intelligence

Muhammad Asim Jasra

The origin of the term ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (AI) can be traced back to 1955 but the concept of robotics and AI became prominent in 2010, evolving from the realms of science fiction and obscure academic field into a practical reality of the modern times. The extent of the use of AI and robotics has dramatically increased in the modern world, outperforming human capabilities. AI is supported by the abundant data integration characterizing the digital revolution. Both the public and the private sectors are pursuing AI technology in order to revolutionize healthcare, education, financial services, communication, automotive, transportation, entertainment, energy, manufacturing, etc. Law enforcement is no exception to it.
Defining AI
AI may be defined as the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. Specific applications of AI include expert systems, natural language processing, speech recognition, machine vision, image recognition, number plate recognition, facial recognition and robotics.
Types of AI
i. Weak AI: It is designed for a particular task. It needs human interaction to work. It may obey a programmed command.
ii. Strong AI: It involves cognitive abilities and can solve tasks without human interaction.
Failure of traditional policing; case study of the Punjab province
With a rapid growth in population as well as urbanization, complexities of the urban life have increased manifolds. Policing such a huge population with heterogeneous communities and an element of anonymity has become a gigantic task, if it is done on traditional lines. The same is true in the case of Punjab which has more than 127 million population. In Lahore, the total crime-related 15 calls received in 2020, 2021 and 2022 were 537,817, 580,197 and 646,789, respectively. This data suggests a sharp increase in the number of grievances of victims or complainants asking for police help on 15 police helpline. This also implies that policing done on traditional lines has failed to deliver and there is a dire need to incorporate technology in general, and AI in particular, in policing.
Why technology in policing?
Automatic and correct record-keeping
Searching the record is very easy.
Integration of the record can be done. Record can be accessed remotely.
It gradually decreases the dependence on human resources.
It ensures transparency.
It makes the job of the supervisory officer easier who can monitor the performance of his officers.
Need for AI-based policing in Pakistan
Pakistan, being a Third-World country with scores of socioeconomic challenges, and the 5th most populous country in the world (Total population around 241 million), faced severe policing problems as sectarianism, terrorism and crime have been on the rise since 2,000. Punjab, being Pakistan’s largest province by population (more than 127 million) was in dire need of AI intervention. In this regard, Punjab Government established Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA), Lahore, in 2016 which was primarily mandated to conduct video surveillance of the metropolitan city. Later on, PSCA assumed the function of incorporating different AI features in policing practices, considering the fact that the future of policing lies in the use of modern technology, video surveillance and AI with less reliance on human/traditional resources.
Use of AI features by the Punjab Police
The use of AI by the Punjab Police is at a nascent stage. An Information Technology (IT) wing has been established in the Central Police Office. Apart from this, the Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) is also mandated to incorporate AI features in its policing functions. The PSCA has a network of around 8,000 cameras installed at the sensitive and important locations of Lahore city. These cameras are integrated with the control room called the Operations Management Center (OMC) at PSCA.
Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system
Any vehicle stolen or snatched or used in the commission of crime is blacklisted in the system and its registration number is added to the list. As and when that registration number comes under the field of view (FoV) of any camera, it sends an alert to the central control room established in the PSCA; thus, indicating its real-time location. The same is intimated to the field police who respond and try to catch that vehicle. Using this ANPR system, around 1,950 blacklisted vehicles have been impounded by police.
Intelligent Traffic Management System (ITMS)
Using the same ANPR system, E-ticketing of traffic violations was started on September 23, 2018, to the extent of the metropolitan city. It is interesting to note that on the very first day of the commencement of E-Ticketing, around 125,000 violations of red light were recorded. After one year, the number of red violations declined by 50 percent. E-Ticketing proved to be a phenomenal success that ensured a smooth flow of traffic on the roads, saved the precious time of the road-users and reduced fatal accidents. According to the data provided by Rescue 1122, fatal accidents decreased by 25 percent after one year. Another study suggests that 35 percent of the time of road-user has been saved. Hence, this AI intervention played a great role in saving the lives of people and making traffic flow smooth.
Predictive policing based on the hotspot analysis
Based on the location of the callers who call at 15 Helpline, the system generates a hotspot analysis which helps in identifying the locations where a particular crime occurs. This helps police officers in strategizing and employing their resources accordingly. Moreover, through proactive surveillance of the city with the help of cameras, many crimes have been prevented.
The potential of AI for policing
AI can do wonders in policing. The following systems may be utilized to tap the potential of AI in policing:
Vehicle count system: Owing to this AI feature, a camera may count the number of vehicles passed from a certain place in a certain time bracket, and it can also identify the categories of vehicles.
Gunshot detection: The cameras installed with gunshot detection would automatically zoom and capture gunshot and generate alerts.
Gun detection: Cameras installed with gun detection would detect the view of the gun as and when appears before the camera.
Headcount: Cameras installed with headcount would count the heads automatically in a gathering or crowd or procession. It would give the exact figure of the participants of that gathering.
Challenges in the use of AI in policing:
Limited Awareness: There is limited awareness about different AI models being used in the world. It is because of this reason that weak AI systems are being used by Punjab Police. All these AI systems cannot work without human interaction.
Capacity Issues: Another challenge is that Pakistan is lagging in the field of AI which is making it difficult for Punjab Police to adopt modern AI systems. It is for this reason we are dependent on foreign contractors and consultants.
Preferences: There is opposition within the department regarding spending billions of rupees on AI software systems and PSCA. Those opposing this argue that such an amount should be spent either on police stations or to meet other operational expenditures of police.
Lack of Tech-savvy Staff: Around 99 percent of the police officials are not IT-savvy and they have the traditional mindset of policing.
Internal Resistance: IT and AI are designed to make changes in the processes of policing and the way they work. Hence, this is the change police are resisting consciously or subconsciously. Resistance to change is found within the majority of employees of every organization, and the same trend is more pronounced in police department.
Apprehensions among Ranks: ICT and AI would bring transparency in the working of the police department; hence, there is an element of fear among the ranks that it may put an end to their discretionary powers.
Lack of Political Will: Political will at the level of government is required to move forward in the field of IT and AI.
Access to Data: AI works on the basis of data integration, and there are issues in data integration. Police should have access to all the databases that may help in adopting effective security measures.
It is needless to say that AI and robotics are assuming critical importance in all the sectors of the modern world including policing, crime prevention and detection, and service delivery. In the future, there would be no traditional policing in the modern world. It is the need of the hour to keep pace with the modern times by understanding AI, developing expertise in this field and using AI in policing in Pakistan. For that to happen, all the challenges mentioned above are to be addressed properly.

The writer is a civil servant, belonging to the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP). He can be reached at:

Muhammad Ali Asghar

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