In December, at Pune’s Chaturshringi police station, a group of policemen from the traffic department decided to do something about the 100 or so unclaimed vehicles that were lying impounded at a lot nearby.
Their tool of choice for this detective operation was a BlackBerry Curve 8310 loaded with “Trafficop”, a new application being tested by beat constables as part of a programme that started on 20 November. Within an hour, and a few hundred inaudible clicks of the Curve’s keypad later, they were able to find 61 rightful owners delighted to hear about their presumed-lost vehicles, 31 stolen cars and the identities of three surprised thieves.
“Trafficop was designed for the Pune Police and gives a constable or an officer access to the RTO’s vehicle registration database,” says Amit Shitole of software firm Omni-Bridge Systems, which developed the application over the last 18 months. “By giving the police access to this information, it makes police work on traffic offences much easier.”
But what appears to be a simple case of joining two bureaucratic dots has had a significant impact on how the traffic department functions. The Trafficop experiment is now a full-fledged operation, with nearly 65 BlackBerry handsets being distributed to policemen in the field. “When the cops catch someone, say, jumping a red light—they pull the car over, put in the registration number on the application and they get instant access to all the information about the car’s owner, address and prior offence history,” says Satchit Gayakwad, spokesperson for Research In Motion, the company that designs BlackBerry phones. The officers then attach a portable printer and hand out a challan (fine) instantly. The application, meanwhile, records the little blip on your record permanently.
Gotcha: Pune traffic policemen now use BlackBerrys to rein in offenders. Photo courtesy: Pune Police
A similar programme exists in Bangalore, where the city traffic police have 280 officers using BlackBerry devices and wireless printers.
“That was the most important step—we now have a history of traffic offences, tied to the RTO’s vehicle information database,” says Manoj Patil, deputy commissioner of police (DCP) of the Pune police traffic department. It has resulted, he says, in a “cold efficiency” permeating through the traffic policemen on the streets and has dug up some very interesting statistics. “We found nearly 720 people who had committed two offences in a month and about 85 people who have three to their name. We even found one guy who committed 15 offences in 14 days.”
With a simple search pulling out all the skeletons in one’s glove compartment, the traffic department now also has the power to cancel licences of those with increasingly alarming records. “It creates this fear of the police,” he says. “People plead for their licences not to be cancelled and prefer to be fined twice, even thrice the amount stipulated.”
Trafficop’s interface is stark and minimalist, reminiscent of the Google home page. Officers get a login and password, and type out data into simple forms. Policemen were already familiar with mobile phone interfaces, so they took to it without special training.
The biggest change that Patil and Shitole expect is a shift in public perception. The first step in that direction is reducing bribery. “We’re going to introduce transactions through swiping credit cards,” he says. “So if you don’t trust the officer on duty, you can pay automatically by card.”