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News : Call ‘911’: Madadgar-15 Undergoing Major Revamp in Karachi
Karachi, Pakistan, May 21, 2015 -- Most citizens facing an emergency in Karachi know they should call Madadgar-15, where ideally, an officer attends the call on the first ring, listens to the crisis at hand, and dispatches help to the location within minutes.
Of course, citizens also know this idealised scenario is quite far from reality. Currently the police hotline is known for its delayed response to distress calls and police vans are rarely seen at emergency situations.
The lag can be attributed to a serious shortage of officers at the call centre. Currently, the 15-Madadgar office located in the Central Police Office is a half empty hall with old computers and reeking of paan with only 24 officers working in a shift, out of a capacity of 54.
"There are less than 100 staffers here to listen to people’s emergency calls," says Shakeel Ahmed Assistant Subinspector Special Security Unit (SSU), adding: "We work in three shifts and receive a roughly estimated 15,000 calls per day, out of which more than 90 per cent are prank calls or those complaining about electricity and water."
In light of the dismal state of the emergency call centre, the Special Security Unit (SSU) is now ambitiously aiming to turn things around with a major revamp along the lines of the United States ‘911’ emergency service.
The SSU — a force comprising highly-trained commandos — is primarily responsible for the protection of ministers and lawmakers. They have been seen in police protocols in black uniforms, sophisticated weapons, dark Ray-Bans and a demeanour that indicates constant vigilance. But the Unit is now extending their services to the general public as well by remodeling the existing Madadgar-15 system and introducing new facilitation centres as well.
The idea has been penned down by Additional Inspector General of Special Security Unit Maqsood Ahmed who wanted a system in place that would function similar to the United State's emergency response centre, a system that people would begin to trust.
What would set apart this emergency hotline would be its capacity to not only address crime-related complains, but also those of power-cuts, suspension of water supply, road accidents or reporting any suspicious activity.
"We are in the process of collaborating with K-Electric, Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB), Special Investigation Unit, Aman Foundation, Chippa and Edhi," says Maqsood.
The screening process will be tightened and training would be given to new recruits. According to Maqsood, the commandos at SSU will be given psychological therapies, quick-response drills and would need to the pass the National Testing Service (NTS) to be qualified to handle emergency situations.
The SSU have also come up with a strategy to counter the slow response towards distress calls.
Initially, 100 ‘Muhafiz’ police vans had been assigned to solely to cater to emergency situations like accidents, thefts, and any kind of violence, but only 20 are now functional.
"Rest of the Muhafiz vans are being used as police protocols for officers serving in different districts," says Shakeel.
The SSU will now deploy 200 of their own police mobiles in all the four zones of Karachi — East, West, Central and South which will be overlooked by them instead of police stations.
"The thanas will work independently whereas the SSU will be functioning separately with their own vans, trained commandos and better surveillance through the call centre," says Maqsood.
"Our vans will be equipped with cameras, recording and tracking devices so that there is constant monitoring. We will also have motorcycles in addition to the vans."
The present state of crime surveillance is clearly insufficient for Karachi's growing population. Only 164 spots are equipped with services of CCTV monitoring in a population of roughly 20 million.
More appalling is the dispatching room where operators inform police mobiles of a crime scene; only two people have been designated for each district.
In comparison, the command and control room has better equipment installed for location tracking and surveillance of CCTV cameras. But the numbers still paint a bleak picture: one operator monitors 36 cameras at one point, and only 13 operators are present in one shift responsible for overlooking all of the city’s cameras.
However, ASI SSU Shakeel Ahmed, claim the conditions have improved and more work is in progress as well.
He says, "We now have air conditioners and power backup, there was none before and the whole system would be put to a halt because of an electricity breakdown."
Adding, "At present, surveillance through CCTV cameras has been limited to most sensitive areas with not more than 600 cameras in the entire city. We are now in the process of getting approval to increase the number of spots after which cameras will be placed in 500 locations across Karachi."
But the addition of more security cameras will not be the solution to counter Karachi’s increasing crime rate.
"People here are scared of going to the police and even calling them for help, I want to change this perception, not through words but by putting up a
Remodeling the system has not come without resistance but Maqsood feels this was expected, "Any new step is seen skeptically, but once the system is up and running by August 14 this year, all doubts will be cleared."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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