Off late, web 2.0 and cloud computing have emerged as some of the most ‘disruptive’ innovations of our times. While the former has spurred much activity on internet such as citizen science, crowdsourcing and open government, bringing an unprecedented level of transparency and greater public participation, the latter has resulted in bringing efficiency and cost-effectiveness to private and public enterprises the word over.
The ‘know your police station’ (or KYPS) application, recently launched by the Delhi Police is the first-of-its-kind initiative, which is a cloud application, for better policing. Launched on January 3 this year, KYPS is a cloud-based geographical information system application for seeking citizens’ feedback on the state of law and order in a particular police station area, besides providing the citizens clear geo-information about the stations’ jurisdiction area and the contact details of stations house officers (SHOs).
According to the Delhi Police, KYPS is an online community policing effort, which would help in keeping a check on crimes in the city areas through greater community participation. The idea is to create a parallel, virtual mechanism to monitor the occurrence of crime and other unlawful activities (under the purview of police) with the existing manual system.
The cloud application, which has been developed and hosted by Microsoft, will help cops identify the crime-prone areas in the national capital. Besides, it also provides a dashboard of the performance of all the SHOs and their station areas in dealing with crime and other law and order activities.
“The larger picture is to have greater public participation [in policing],” says Sandeep Goyal, joint commissioner of police, Delhi. “Let us suppose that people are frequent in using KYPS. So if an unlawful activity is happening somewhere, the people can report it first,” adds the senior cop, even before the police or other agencies come to know about it.
The feedback, however, is not an alternative channel for complaint registration. Rather, the system will help cops in ascertaining the “perception of the people” regarding the law and order situation in their area. “If no FIR has been registered in a particular area, but people feel there is some wrong activity going on then there has to be something behind it. Through this system, we can see that.
“Eventually, through these feedbacks, the police will be able to identify crime hot spots, based on the type of complaints coming from various locations. Accordingly, we can plan our actions,” says Goyal.
For giving feedback, a citizen needs to log on to Delhi Police web portal (delhipolice.nic.in) and click on the hyperlinked ‘know your police station’. The system then asks the user to download Microsoft Silverlight application, which is done in a few seconds. Subsequently, a customised Google Map page will open, where in a user can access information about the jurisdiction of various police stations and also provide feedback.
The crowdsourced feedback, once entered into the system by the citizens, automatically goes directly to the concerned SHO, in form of an e-mail and SMS. He then takes the follow-up action, which is monitored by the district police chief (DCP).
“The action on the feedback is monitored by the DCP at the district level and police headquarters (PHQ) at the apex level. In few cases where citizens have provided their email IDs, the district police chief also sends reply, detailing the action taken on their feedback,” says Rajan Bhagat, additional commissioner of police and public relations officer with the Delhi Police.
He says that the commissioner of police (CP) reviews the feedback and the follow-up actions during the regular weekly meetings attended by all the DCPs and other senior cops. Bhagat updates the CP on a day-to-day basis as well.
On SHOs, who are key functionary in the whole system, another cop associated with the KYPS, requesting anonymity, says, “Initially, the department had issued circulars to all the SHOs to inculcate the habit of opening and reading their emails at least twice in a day. However, with the recent addition of the SMS service, the SHO now receives the same feedback on his cellphone on a real-time basis.”
The KYPS application could also be accessed from a smartphone. The Microsoft application runs on almost all type of machines. Importantly, through smartphones one can upload an image of the crime scene in the same feedback section of the application. The information (feedback) received through smartphones also has the geo-code or say the geo-location of the crime scene, which could be a very useful data for further analysis for the police department. The Delhi Police is yet to publicise the use of application over smartphones. However, it is going to be publicised within a month.
Interestingly, since the application is on cloud, the Delhi police didn’t have to develop or procure KYPS application; it didn’t spend upfront on this. Using this application on software as a service model, which comes under the ‘cloud computing’ or a distributed/rented computing framework, the police did not have to procure hardware and additional human resource to handle it.
This is an example cloud computing, wherein the application is hosted remotely and managed by the service provider. “The police provide the content and look after the data management. Everything else – the software, servers, web portal, data storage and web traffic, among others – is taken care of by the cloud computing infrastructure of Microsoft,” says Rahul Chitale, director, cloud services, Microsoft.
As the traffic to the application increases, the cost savings to the Delhi Police will be substantial, since the technology part is being handled by the cloud service provider. The cop associated with the KYPS explains that the application is bandwidth hungry, since it involves processing of digital geographical maps and the images. Besides, if the number of users on a given day increases unexpectedly the application will not go down. The cloud provides that scalability and elasticity to handle the traffic.
Chitale from Microsoft digs further into the technology, saying, “Normally a home PC comes with a four-core processor. We actually dip down to use of one fourth core at midnight (due to lesser traffic) and based on the demand we can scale up to hundreds of cores, whenever required. This is the advantage of cloud. You don’t have to always worry for the worst time. Cloud takes care of that. That is the elasticity cloud offers.”
He adds, “Crowdsourcing has been really successful in leveling potholes, improving traffic on roads, among many other things.”
The buy-in for the cloud, which is usually seen with caution and even fear – emanating from issue of data ownership and data sovereignty – by most in the public sector, came from the higher level. Its genesis dates back to last year when Microsoft made a presentation to a senior official in the ministry of home affairs, who then advised to approach the Delhi Police for the pilot.
The system, as Rajan Bhagat puts it, has provided another mechanism to evaluate the performance of an SHO based on the data received from the KYPS application. According to senior policemen, the administrators and cops at the senior most levels have been very positive about this idea, which is also one of the reasons behind quick implementation of the cloud-based application, wherein the data resides in the service providers’ servers and not in the department’s server.
While, most cops might not be aware of the technicalities and all the benefits from these technologies, but they certainly do understand the tangible dividends.