Cyber-ready? India's 2.1 mn police personnel had 13,000 laptops in 2019

According to a 2020 report, Delhi had 410 policemen per 100,000 people.
A Delhi Police audit last month showed the force had 78,985 personnel against a sanctioned strength of 94,353--a 16 per cent shortage, according to the Indian Express. Staff is just one resource crunch the police in Delhi and India face: they don’t even have enough computers or working security cameras.

Delhi Police’s top tier is packed but its lower rung is depleted. As per 2019 data, it had 19 per cent shortage of sub-inspectors, 10 per cent shortage of head constables and a 13 per cent shortage of constables. The situation has gotten worse. The city has an alarming officer-to-field staff ratio, with one superior officer for 130 personnel. India averages one superior officer for 104 police force personnel.

The staff shortage is worrying but Delhi has one of the country’s best police-to-population ratios. According to the 2020 Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) report, Delhi had 410 personnel in the police per 100,000 people; in contrast, 24 states/UTs had fewer than 200 policemen per 100,000 population. The UN prescribes 222 police officers per 100,000, 26 states were below the UN mandated average.

A Business Standard analysis shows a more worrying trend: In Delhi, there were eight computers for every 100 police officers, but the national average was much worse. There were only seven computers for every 100 police officers in 2019.

Delhi Police’s 21 lakh personnel had just 13,232 laptops in 2019. There were 17,326 police officers in the senior supervisory role (Assistant Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent Assistant Commandant and above) and 269,776 personnel at immediate supervisory (assistant sub-inspector to inspector) positions.

Smartphones should be good enough in place of computers, but an earlier BPRD report highlighted that most police apps in India were customer-centric, and very few police apps existed for internal functioning.

The police are woefully short on equipment as cybercrimes increase across India. In a reply in this year’s monsoon session, the home ministry informed the Parliament that cyberattacks in 2020 had increased three times compared to 2019. The country recorded 1.16 million cases of cyberattacks in 2020 compared to 349,499 cases in 2019, according to the Computer Emergency Response Team.

Building cyber-readiness

In 1967, US president Lyndon B Johnson appointed a commission to repair the criminal justice system. Of the many recommendations of the commission, one was the adoption of computers. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the US police departments started acquiring computers, and even then, the technology was used for routine tasks.

In the UK, the discussion on the use of technology started a few years earlier than in the US, but the adoption came around the same time--in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1974, the country started a Police National Computer database to store information on criminals.

One of the first studies assessing the use of computer technology and its impact was published in 1977. Although computer adoption came in much late, the discussion on police reform has been on the table since the 1960s.

Although the Supreme Court ordered states to carry out police reforms, most states passed laws nullifying SC’s decision. One of the central pillars of these reforms has been the focus on technology.

Averages can be misleading

In fact, the national average and Delhi’s example obscure the statewide differences in technology adoption. Fourteen states and union territories had a lower ratio than the national average. Assam had only two computers per one thousand people. Bihar had two computers per every 100 policemen; Uttar Pradesh had three.

Only nine states and union territories had more than ten computers per 100 police personnel or one computer for ten personnel. Kerala was the only state with 23 computers per 100 police officers: the rest of the states had fewer than 20 computers.

Moreover, the pace of computer adoption has been disappointing. In 2017 there were 53,177 cybersecurity incidents as per CERT-In data; while this increased nearly eight times to 394,499 in 2019, the number of computers only increased by 1.5-times. Even though the government added 165,241 police personnel between 2017 and 2019, it could only add 49,324 computers.

There is no data on how many of these computers are in a functioning condition. A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on the Delhi Police last year showed that faulty equipment was a common problem. While Delhi leads the country in CCTV camera adoption, the CAG audit found that in 2018-19 only 22-48 per cent of the cameras were functioning, and there was only one personnel monitoring feed from 64 cameras.

Among the staff for the cybercrime unit of the 142 personnel, only five had a technical qualification, 15 had training, and 35 were proficient in computers.

CAG report further finds that even though the police spent Rs 83 lakh in app development, Rs 45 lakh in purchasing 30 consoles--Delhi Police did not need more than two—and another Rs 6.82 crore on advertisements, the response to the app was lukewarm.

The problem, thus, is not just funds but fund utilisation as well. Maharashtra did not spend a single penny on the advertisement and could garner more installs. Bengaluru spent a small fraction of what Delhi paid and had more installs.

A smart police force is the need of the hour, but that would also require more investments in technology and smart utilisation of funds.

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