Digital Transformation of the Police

10 Februrary 2022 | Posted by N Ramachandran IPS (Retd)


In recent decades, technology in general and digital technology in particular, has triggered disruptive changes in the way people live, learn, work, transact business, interact, travel, and entertain themselves. The world has been witnessing not only an exponential growth in computing and connectivity technologies, but also the convergence of innumerable technologies, driving incredible changes in every aspect of human activity. In fact, what we are witnessing today, is a digital revolution of indescribable proportions.

Obviously, the police cannot remain insulated or impervious to these mind boggling developments. In fact, the police functions in the middle of it all and policing touches every aspect of human interactions. These dramatic technological upheavals have been presenting exciting promises and possibilities to the policing world as well. Digital technology has the potential to bring about unprecedented levels of efficiencies in police service delivery, investigation, prosecution, crime prevention, security management, intelligence gathering and its analysis, with speed, accuracy and transparency.

Most police organizations in the country are aware of this burgeoning trend as well as the criticality of keeping pace with the fast-moving world of technology, lest they are swept off the ground. Many individual police leaders and some police departments have been taking the initiative to prepare their force to acquire the knowledge, the skills and the infrastructure, to adapt themselves to this immense reality. However, most of these initiatives are individual-centric and lack the strategic depth.

Even as there are rising expectations and increasing scrutiny being faced by them, the Indian Police, its operating doctrines, its systems, processes and mindsets have not kept pace with the technological disruptions and resultant social changes. While islands of digital innovation and excellence flourish in different police organisations, generally speaking, our police have not evolved beyond the pre-digital era, still functioning from a network of traditional police stations, steeped in mountains of paper work, with written case diaries, expending their time and energies collecting and marshalling physical evidence for criminal prosecutions. Fact remains that the so-called ‘digital policing’ expertise is still confined to small sections of police personnel, who themselves have limited capabilities.

Digitisation holds high potential for every aspect of policing, from digitally enabled emergency response systems and police service delivery to citizens, empowering field level police officers with real-time data and equipment, contactless filing of complaints, scientific support to crime investigation, maintenance of law & order, data driven intelligence and Open Source Intelligence (OSINT),the flagship CCTNS project of the police, the intricate networks of CCTVs in public spaces with their Integrated Command & Control Centers, and a host of disruptive tools are all interwoven in technology and redefining policing from

intelligent serving of beats to detecting and predicting mines in counter terrorism operations.

There is immense potential to harness the power of data, using cutting edge technologies for data mining and predictive analytics that could help in more targeted deployment of manpower and other resources. It is high time that police operations as well as police administration, training and management are digitised and data-driven, to unleash the full potential of technology for the larger public good. It is also crucial that police harness the mountains of data available at their command for analytics and A-I driven insights and decision making. These are veritable treasure-troves of legacy data relating to crime and security. The problem is that most of the data available today are paper based and their digitisation could be rather laborious. Thankfully, there are many technologies available today that could help in digitisation of legacy data existing on paper-based files. Importantly, these treasures of legacy data should not be allowed to be forgotten. Digitisation of data can help the police in deriving evidence based insights, more informed decision-making based on the analysis of real-time and historical data. Above all, digitisation has the potential to transform the way police deals with citizens, and the way police services are delivered.

Another issue is that of a multiplicity of disparate police digital resources. According to a paper published by the BPR&D, there are numerous police Apps developed by States, Districts and individual police officers for services like ‘crime reporting, traffic updates, matching of stolen vehicles, information about traffic signs, traffic offences and penalties, information about traffic notices and payment, road safety, information about nearest location based on geo location, apps for women’s safety, tenant/ servant/employee verification, lost/found report, missing person report, etc’. In some States, different districts have developed different apps for the same service. Take the case of monthly crime meetings. We are aware of many young techno-savvy SPs developing their own software or apps for use of theirs police stations and staff to guide their crime investigation and prevention work. While some of them may be of good value, the problem is that there has been no centralised efforts to evaluate, validate their usefulness and upscale the deserving ones on a nationwide basis.

The potential of digital technology has already proved to be hugely transformational for crime investigation and prosecution as well. For example, digital technology, the smartphones and digital forensics are already being used in a big way, becoming the core of many criminal investigations. A concerted effort for their adoption and application at the police station level across the country, providing highly efficient and reliable tools for scientific investigation and prosecution at the hands of every field police officer, could potentially transform the entire Indian Police.

At the same time, the criminal use and exploitation of cyberspace has emerged as one of the most serious threats to lives and property of citizens, businesses and national security itself. Cybercriminals are always on the prowl, looking to spot potential vulnerabilities of new technologies and opportunities to defraud. Sexual exploitation of women and children in the cyberspace has been increasing on an alarming rate. Even as cyber criminals become more sophisticated and resort to vicious and malicious software, the police has to

continuously upgrade its strategic capabilities to deal with the emerging threats. The ‘business as usual’ approach would not suffice. The law enforcement response to cybercrime requires continuous research, deliberation and strategy formulation.

IPF Centre for Digital Transformation of the Indian Police

The Indian Police Foundation has recently launched the IPF Centre for Digital Transformation, to continuously explore strategies for maximising the potential for digitisation and related technology adoption. The broad objectives of the Centre would be:

  1. Exploration of avenues for adoption of new and disruptive technologies and innovations to support the Indian Police

  2. Holding continuous dialogues, idea generation events, workshops etc. with the police fraternity and external experts for preparation of a Digital Policing Strategy for the Indian Police and its continuous revision and upgradation

  3. Learning from the experiences of the private sector to understand how the police can improve efficiencies and the quality of their services.

  4. Building collaborative interfaces with external agencies

  5. Building relationships with citizens and communities