Many people give up on sharing information with the police after a futile search for their local police station’s number. Most don’t even trust the force to begin with.
The gaping trust deficit between residents and the police was acutely felt by Station House Officer (SHO) Amir Altaf, who decided that something had to be done. He created a Facebook page while he was posted at the Clifton police station.
Altaf, who is no longer looking after Clifton and alleges that he has been sidelined, started Karachi’s first Facebook page for a police station at the end of February 2012. It had close to a hundred members in less than a month. Residents could post grievances, share information and receive information about criminal activity in their neighborhood.
“I had practical experience and was a field officer for 20 years. So the first chance I had as an SHO, I wanted to increase the collaboration between the police and the public,” said Altaf with a hint of resentment in his voice. “The police and people have no medium to connect with each other while there are those who do not know what is happening in their community since they don’t watch the news.”
After Altaf was posted away from Clifton, activity on the page ceased and a phone call to the Clifton police station revealed that no one was interested in continuing with the initiative.
“My aim was that the Facebook page would carry pictures of missing people and sketches of criminals and at the same time, people could register their complaints or share information on it,” explained Altaf.
The page has a few sketches and photos of a missing person and feedback from the community, but the response from the police has been scant, something that Altaf said would have improved if he were still at his post. “There are no success stories as no cases were solved from the page but it is a long-term commitment and didn’t get a chance to succeed.”
He maintained that while organisations such as the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) has been trying for years to strengthen community policing, it has not properly taken off because the responsibility lies with the police. “The CPLC can act as a facilitator and that too from the civilian side. The police are the ones who have the manpower in each police station and can reach out to the public.”
Altaf suspects that his idea did not sit well with the police force and what could have been a significant effort in restoring people’s trust in the police, has come to an end. “Sometimes in Pakistan, when you have different or new ideas, people like to oppose them and proclaim them wrong.”
Running parallel with the Facebook initiative, Altaf also designed security advisories for residents on how to reduce their chances of being victims of crimes. Installing CCTV cameras, obtaining CNIC copies, photographs and references for domestic help, lighting dark areas in one’s vicinity, keeping car doors locked while driving, ensuring that one’s driver is not sitting in the car when it is parked and reporting suspicious activity in the neighbourhood, are some of the simple steps that according to Altaf could help in not only solving cases but also preventing crime.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2012.