Role of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) in policing

GPS and Police patrolling
From a management and safety viewpoint, Police managers have long wanted to be able to locate any patrol unit on a map at any point in time (where are the units right now?). Now police patrolling personnel are able to use GPS sensors for that utilize from three to seven satellites for precision; three receivers will sense position to a hundred yards or so; seven receivers will be accurate to within a few meters. These receivers also have a small computer chip built in so that they can do the required timing and calculations internally and report position in either longitude/latitude or UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) form with pre-determined regularity. That can in turn be fed into either a PC, or into a radio modem for transmission back to base. Typically, each unit would report position every minute or so.

At the base station, usually the control room, these position reports would be received and used to display the current location of each unit on a large computerized map (usually on a BIG screen or projection); it has to be large to display the entire area in enough detail to be useful. If an accurate map is available, this is relatively easy to do. GPS can be useful in the urban policing setting primarily as an officer safety device. In the urban setting, the officer is most often on his way to or at a call, and the control room knows where that is; and in between, the patrol officer can periodically indicate location, so GPS is not of substantive value for dispatching in urban areas. It can be very helpful, however, if the officer is hurt, or taken, since other cars can be quickly vectored on the location of the subject patrol unit. However, GPS is most useful in the rural/ highway patrol situation where units spend most of their time seeing and being seen rather than responding, and where assistance can be far away. Similarly, given long distances involved in rural areas, knowing exactly where all available patrol units physically are can allow the dispatcher to send the unit that will arrive on the scene the fastest, so GPS can be of real dispatching assistance in the rural or highway patrol setting.

Some Words of Caution About GPS in Policing
In exploring the variety of GPS options available to law enforcement agencies, it is important to consider the degree of precision offered by each system. Many larger electronic stories sell a basic, handheld GPS locator unit for a few thousand rupees. These units will simply give the user readout of their location with a varying degree of accuracy (most civilian units are accurate to less than one hundred meters). More precise units, and systems which pinpoint location on maps, will be more expensive in that they require “differential correction equipment”. Such units, however, can identify a location within one meter.

Interestingly, the reason for the lack of precision in commercial GPS is not a matter of technology, but one of policy. With the DOD stopping its intentional distortion, all GPS receivers will be able to pinpoint positions on the earth within one centimeter. Police Departments integrating GPS and computerized maps need to be sure that the accuracy of the maps matches the precision of their GPS units. Although the quality of both GPS and computerized maps is improving, care must be exercised to ensure that the maps will reflect the actual position of the GPS unit. Maps must also be regularly updated to reflect significant changes within a community.

GPS in Policing: The Indian Scenario
In India, Bangalore police, Hyderabad police, Mumbai police, Goa police, Kerala police, Delhi police and Chennai Police are the front-runners in using GIS and GPS for Crime prevention and control. But the application of GPS in policing has not taken pace as done in developed countries. In this context, there is a need to study the current problems that hamper the development and availability of GPS in Police Departments.

Hardware and software costs
The cost of hardware and GIS software starts at a few thousand Rupees. Still, the cost of minimum configuration—a PC, monitor, printer, and desktop mapping software, GPS can be prohibitive to police departments that must continuously weigh the costs and benefits of GPS against other crime prevention activities.

GPS will be more complicated and harder to learn for police personnel, so, special training courses are often required to use GPS effectively. This requirement is also a serious obstacle for Indian police departments. Indian police departments usually depend on one or two persons who are familiar with GPS/mapping; when these persons leave or, transferred to another area, the department also loses its GPS/mapping capability. One approach to overcoming this obstacle is to develop a separate crime-mapping department. In this department a new breed of people for the Indian criminal justices system called crime analysts should be recruited. This department should be fully dedicated to work only on GIS/GPS applications. Apart from this, various levels of police personnel should be trained by crime mapping department.

The GPS application in Indian Policing is in its infancy. Large-volume commercial applications such as cellular phones, personal communication systems, and in-vehicle navigation systems will fuel continued development of these technologies. What was ultimately the domain of the Department of Defense is rapidly becoming available for business, private, and general government use. Policing and public safety in general, will benefit from these market forces. It is clear that there are number of GPS applications for policing.

The challenge for the next decade will be to create hardware that is small, rugged, and within the budget of the average police department. Along with this goes the challenge of creating inexpensive applications that are integrated, flexible, and which can be supported by limited staff maintenance and training resources. As with many other technologies, the GPS/GIS industry must meet these requirements if it is to be successfully introduced into the Police Departments.

At this juncture, it is essential for the development of a nodal agency to implement and manage GIS/GPS in Indian police departments. Hence, it is proposed that, a National Crime Mapping Research Center (NCMRC) should be created under the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Capital and all the states should have a State Crime Mapping Research Center (SCMRC) and it should be connected through a network with the NCMRC. Apart from this, GIS/GPS technology should be added to the curriculum for the Police training at the Sardar Vallabh bhai Patel National Police Academy, National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science, Central Detective Training Schools and State Police Training Colleges. It would enable the police personnel to use the GIS/GPS in an efficient manner, to play an effective role in crime prevention and investigation.


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