With ethical hackers, Bengaluru takes tech policing to next level

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If Karnataka’s Chief Minister has over 24,000 Twitter followers, Bengaluru’s police commissioner has more than 3,50,000 followers.

Saritha Rai

Where in India can you file a police complaint from a technology-powered kiosk in a shopping mall? Which city police enlists ethical hackers to crack cybercrime cases? Which police force will soon join the global e-commerce revolution with the launch of its own, dedicated mobile app for policemen to buy discounted daily-use items?

The country’s most tech-savvy police force is in Bengaluru, of course.

If Karnataka’s Chief Minister has over 24,000 Twitter followers, Bengaluru’s police commissioner has more than 3,50,000 followers. The police chief has re-tweeted and routed thousands of public complaints to relevant officers — who are all also on Twitter – for immediate action. A fake e-commerce portal has been shut down and the kingpin of a prostitution racket rounded up based on citizens’ recent complaint-tweets.

Many of city police’s tech-enabled initiatives have been powered by Bengaluru police’s top geek, the Deputy Commissioner of Police Abhishek Goyal. Goyal, 35, a computer science graduate from IIT Delhi who joined the police force in 2005, has spearheaded the design of a city database of habitual offenders and criminals, built a soon-to-launch mobile app for policemen to buy online, and deployed data analytics tools to scrutinise crime patterns.

For the criminal database, Goyal spent many months creating a comprehensive listing for each of the city’s 100-plus police stations which contain videos, photos, audio, property details, Aadhaar card number and residence details of 37,328 known criminals. “With this single database, crimes in Bengaluru will become police station-agnostic. For instance, the details of offenders in the central Ashok Nagar police station jurisdiction can now be accessed as well as updated by officers at the Pulakeshi Nagar police station nearby and vice versa,” he said.

“Technology is beginning to play a vital role in policing in our city, and our initial engagements show that we urgently need a non-uniform technical cadre for the police in big cities,” said N S Megharikh, Bengaluru’s police commissioner. The use of technology is very nascent in bigger Indian cities, but Bengaluru has been a pioneer, he said. Indeed, technology use by the police first became visible during the last decade when BlackBerry-toting policemen got ubiquitous in street corners, booking offenders for speeding, jumping red lights and other such violations.

But Goyal has taken the use of technology to another level by starting to deploy data analytics tools to dissect crime patterns in the city. Data from a series of chain snatching cases in the last two years, which includes modus operandi, time and location, could help identify patterns of the gang behind the crimes. In February, he helped set up social media-monitoring software, built by IIT Delhi, which allows investigators to search across social media with alerts for specific key words. “This is invaluable in fighting criminal gangs such as drug dealers”, he said.

Goyal’s computer science background gives him an edge in police investigations, says R K Misra, a Bengaluru-based urban activist and founder director of C-SMART, the Center for SMART Cities.

Goyal has become the go-to man for anything tech-related in the Bengaluru police. He led the interrogation of Mehdi Masroor Biswas, a Bengaluru-based engineer and a sympathiser of the Islamic State who was arrested in December last year after being unmasked as the Twitter handle @Shamiwitness which foretold the beheading of Western prisoners. That investigation brought a Twitter threat to Goyal. In last December’s bomb attack at Church Street, Goyal led the number-crunching team which analysed thousands of call records for mobile calls emanating from the area.

Goyal’s knowledge of data science and machine learning has helped him level with technology professionals, said Vinod Chandrashekar who heads the Bangalore chapter of the New York-based non profit DataKind, which brings elite data science volunteers to work pro bono with public bodies and NGOs.

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