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How Delhi Police uses data from emergency calls to track, map crime

G. Kishan Reddy, Delhi Police
Source: Twitter/@kishanreddybjp

Calls made to the Delhi Police’s emergency response support system (ERSS), the 112 helpline, are a treasure trove of data for the law enforcement agency. Electronic data — gathered from 15,000 daily calls made to emergency helpline numbers and which is retained forever — is used by the police to map crimes and generate insights from the process. This data runs the engine that is the Crime Mapping, Analytics and Predictive System (CMAPS).

DCP (Operations and Communications) S.K. Singh, a veteran of command room operations who has been in charge of the emergency helpline for ten years, calls the ERSS’s command centre the “nerve centre” of Delhi. The 200 calls received within a span of 10 minutes on March 2 about rumours of violence in Khyala, an area in West Delhi, prompted Delhi Police to mobilise its “whole force” because of which the situation could be controlled within an hour, Singh said.

The single emergency helpline number — 112 — was launched by Minister of State for Home Affairs G. Kishan Reddy on September 25, 2019 along with the new 6-storey ERSS facility in Shalimar Bagh. Throughout the pandemic, the facility has run at full capacity, fielding calls related to labour migration, starvation, social distancing, Singh said.

The Crime Mapping, Analytics, and Predictive System (CMAPS)

The Delhi Police uses the Crime Mapping, Analytics, Predictive System (CMAPS), developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). This system helps it identify and map crime patterns. “Suppose I want to know how many snatchings have taken place, which is the police station with maximum snatchings, which is the place from where snatching has occurred, CMAPS will give me the exact location,” Singh said.

Data is retained forever for analytics: Electronic data, such as addresses of the victim and caller, nature of emergency, services dispatched, action taken, etc. are retained forever. Voice recordings of all calls that are taken by a call taker within ERSS are retained for 30 days.

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“I have data from 2008. So that data [electronic data], we don’t delete it. It is like mines for me because it helps us in analysing [crimes]. If I have 10 years of data and I want to see what is the pattern of snatchings in Adarsh Nagar Metro Station, I get to know that with the CMAPS software. This data is not deleted [ever]. It is only voice data [that is deleted].” — S.K. Singh

Both this voice data and electronic data are submitted to the court when required. In case of voice recordings, the investigating officer has to put in a preservation request within 30 days of the call being made, Singh said, or the recording is deleted. The voice recordings are also used to investigate complaints about non-arrival of PCR vehicles, he said.

All the old electronic data is stored in the old data server in the police headquarters while all data collected after September 25, 2019, is retained at the Shalimar Bagh facility, Singh said. This data is only analysed using CMAPS.

  • A 112 call is not connected to a human call taker directly; the caller is first directed to an integrated voice recording system (IVRS) where they must press 8. “If I don’t put IVR, then I will have to attend 6 lakh (600,000) calls [daily],” Singh said. Only 15,000 calls, or 2.5% of the 600,000 calls, are instances where the caller actually presses 8 and are thus diverted to call takers. Only 5,000, or 0.8% of these calls are actionable.

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  • Call takers, apart from diverting calls to call dispatchers to dispatch PCR vans, can also alert other services (traffic police, fire, ambulance, etc.), and alert beat cops through the e-beat book system.

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Big data analytics: Singh explained that big data analytics via CMAPS helps him with policing. For instance, crime data around Dussehra helps him decide where to put pickets. “The crime pattern remains the same. If Ram Lila is happening at Ram Lila ground, so it will happen this year also and the crime had happened last year, the criminals will also target that area,” he said. But there is a caveat:

  • Due to Delhi’s floating population of 10 million people, Singh said that reduction in crime hasn’t been seen but exponential growth has been stymied. “[Repeat offenders] are deterred. They also know that if I do the crime, somehow today or tomorrow, I will be caught,” he said. While it is difficult to track people who flee Delhi after committing the crime, they leave “certain clues” that help catch them, he said.

CMAPS shows historical data of crimes committed in the city; it doesn’t show live data of emergency calls or PCR vehicle locations, for which there exists a separate “PCR Live” system. Data can be sorted using different filters — time interval, rescue point name, kind of response, point of interest, etc. Only data collected and generated from calls where action is taken, is included. Thus, of the 6 lakh daily calls received, data from only 5,000 calls populates CMAPS.

Although Singh said that CMAPS does not include people’s personal data, since all data on CMAPS is populated using the data collected from ERSS calls, each data point can be traced back to a call using the call’s “Event ID”.

To include data from FIRs, ERSS would have to be integrated with the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS). Delhi Police had integrated it once but due to an issue with the software, they are redoing it. CCTNS is populated at a police station level with details related to FIRs, court dates, etc.

Delhi Police communicates off the internet

All communication within Delhi Police happens through the cyber highway, a fibre network that connects 243 Delhi Police locations to provide real-time information using MPLS VPN. Introduced in 2009, it is a state-wide area network (SWAN) that was built by MTNL. “The cyber highway network is a closed, private network of Delhi Police,” Singh said, and is thus not connected to the internet. All electronic data is transferred within Delhi Police through this network. “Many of our wireless instruments’ data is also passing through that. It is all integrated,” he said.

Every zonal officer has a terminal of CMAPS in their office. CMAPS terminals across the city are not connected to the internet. They are only connected through the cyber highway. “And now EHRM [Electronic Human Resource Management], CCTNS, many other services are linked through the cyber highway network,” Singh said.

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What kind of data is collected?

When a call taker picks a call, the phone number is automatically displayed by the software. Address of the caller is displayed if the caller’s details are stored in the Delhi Police database, otherwise the call taker has to manually fill the field. The Delhi Police’s database of phone numbers is sourced from Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) who send only the name, address and phone number; updates are sent to the ERSS every three months on a hard drive. It is understood that the Delhi Police wants to integrate the ERSS database with the TSPs’ so that immediate updates are possible but that has run into some issues.

Address of the victim/incident is filled in by the call taker and is used to pin the destination for the PCR van on the map. On the basis of this, district and police station fields are automatically populated. When a call is dispatched to the dispatcher, the local police station is automatically informed. Details of the incident are filled, and in case of stolen vehicles, call takers check “Auto-match” to run the registration number through NCRB’s database.

Audio is automatically recorded. For each call, an event ID is generated that functions as the unique identifying number for the call throughout the system. When a call log for the incident is generated, all this data is part of the form along with the identifying details of the call taker who took the call, and the call dispatcher, who dispatched the vehicle (if required).

The call takers can also check signal log to track all calls, SMSes and emails received or missed on that particular workstation. Voice calls accounted for the bulk of the signal logs. SOS calls generated by pressing the SOS button in the 112 ERSS app are also logged here; this had practically zero engagement.

ERSS doesn’t have access to callers’ live locations: The system cannot track the live location of a caller, mostly because it doesn’t need it. PCR vehicles are dispatched on the basis of the address provided by the caller. On an average, they reach the location in six minutes and thirty seconds, during which a caller is unlikely to move a lot from where they had called, Singh said.

However, the Himmat app, built largely to improve women’s safety in New Delhi, is an exception. The app, developed by a Pune-based SmartCloud, sends a live, dynamic location when a registered user shakes their phone or clicks the emergency button in the app. It was launched by Delhi Police in 2015, in response to the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case. Once the call is placed on the app, the torch on the mobile automatically turns on to scare a potential attacker, and in case there is an investigation, to make the attacker visible, Singh explained. The audio and video are transmitted to ERSS but the user can choose to disable them. Both are retained for 30 days.

The app, however, is limited to users who have a smartphone and an internet connection. In 2018, the P. Chidambaram-led Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs had concluded that the app was a “comprehensive failure” as it only had 30,821 registered users in a city with a population of 1.9 crore. Singh attributed this low adoption rate to the high quality of 112 service in Delhi unlike places like Bangalore where the 112 service is not that great and they don’t have as many PCR vehicles.

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Until October 21, 2020, 117,501 users and 6,196 rickshaw and auto drivers had registered on Himmat app since its launch.

A curious problem with consumer mobile devices

Some calls made to the ERSS are actually the result of faulty power buttons on mobile phones. In April 2016, the Department of Telecommunications made it mandatory for all mobile phones in India to have a panic button/emergency call button so that if the emergency call button is pressed for a long time, or the power button is pressed thrice in quick succession, it would make an emergency call. Accidental presses of these buttons flood the 112 systems with automated calls.

“Per day, we receive 25,000-30,000 such calls,” a police officer said. Some callers have called more than 2,000 times within a day because of this. “We have written to DoT to resolve this but over the spectrum, we find that in almost all the mobile phones, this is happening,” Singh said.

To prevent such calls from cannibalising genuine calls, the ERSS automatically blocks calls for 24 hours from numbers that call 10 times or more without pressing 8. The calls are logged; they are just not diverted to human call takers. The Delhi Police calls such users back the next day to inform them of the issue with their handset.

In a survey of 1,500 phones that made automated calls to 112 between July and September 2020, the Delhi Police found the companies with maximum faulty handsets — Vivo, Oppo, Realme and Samsung. In 95% of the cases, the issue was with the touchscreen or power button. According to research by Counterpoint, these four brands accounted for 63% of the Indian smartphone market in 2020’s second quarter.

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Using Indian-made software helped save costs

The Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), an R&D centre within the IT Ministry, has developed the software for 112 calls that is used throughout the 112 ecosystem. The C-DAC has also developed the 112 ERSS app. The e-beat book system, an app used by beat cops, is an exception as it has been developed by Mobineers Info Systems, a private company.

As a result, “this software has no price” while international software would cost “₹2-3 lakh per licence”, Singh said. If he has to procure 150 licences for 122 call takers and 30 dispatchers, the cost would run into crores of rupees.

Singh mentioned that Uttar Pradesh Police’s entire system cost them ₹600 crore while Delhi Police’s cost ₹24 crore since the former went with international companies. However, the two police departments operate at different scales: UP Police has over 2.5 lakh personnel for a population of 20 crore while Delhi Police has about 92,000 personnel for a population of 1.9 crore. The cost for UP Police, as given by Singh, is still astronomical.

“We asked C-DAC to sit down in our command room and see how we are operating [the then 100 helpline] and develop the software to meet our requirements,” Singh said. Once C-DAC built its capabilities, Delhi Police waited for it to implement the system in smaller cities like Shimla and Dehradun to gauge its success, he said. Now, a group of C-DAC engineers work out of the ERSS facility to troubleshoot the system.

“As per the government policy, we don’t like to go international because first thing, Indian companies are the cheapest and best,” Singh said. On asking him about the $1 million contract given to Nice, an Israeli company, to provide security solutions for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, he said, “The government of that time was not interested to have any indigenous product. Our present government is interested that Make in India should happen.”

The wireless devices, however, are made by Motorola, an American company “because Motorola is very strong in the wireless trunking communication”, Singh said. Delhi Police has already done the tendering process and submitted a proposal to the MHA so that it can replace its 20-year-old wireless system, he said. The new devices will also be Motorola’s.

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To read more about how bias in data collection can affect policing via CMAPS, read this paper by Vidushi Marda and Shivangi Narayan that discusses how data was collected and used through the 100 helpline.

Edited by Aditya Chunduru

***Update (10:03 pm): Updated with link to Marda and Narayan’s paper on CMAPS. Originally published on November 2020, 2020 at 6:03 pm.

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