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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Urban Policing and Police reforms in Pakistan

In Pakistan, police and policing encounter numerous obstacles. All kinds of perspectives are related to these difficulties, from antiquated legal frameworks to antiquated criminal and business operations. One of the most pressing issues in urban policing, which is not only national but also international in scope. Kamran Adil, a Deputy Inspector General of Islamabad police explains this issue with important details that everyone should know about.

Police and urban policing face many challenges in Pakistan. From retrograde legal frameworks to archaic criminal and business processes, all sorts of perceptions are associated with these challenges. One of the key challenges in urban policing, which is not only nationally important but has international significance as well. For example, the Introduction to the Handbook on Policing Urban Spaces published by the United Nations Office of Crime and Drugs in 2011, noted:

“…Owing to the unique characteristics of cities, urban policing is a central governance challenge facing high-income countries as well as low- and middle-income countries as diverse as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.”

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Statistically, Pakistan records an increase in urbanization: the 2017 Census has shown that 36.4% population is living in cities as compared to 32.5% in 1998. This is in line with global trends of increasing urbanization as over half of the world population now lives in cities. Rapid urbanization is a complex phenomenon as it affects society, aetiology of crime and the response of the state to the crime. Contextualized in this backdrop, it is apt to examine how discourse on police reforms in Pakistan has looked at urban policing. In this regard, the following points merit consideration:

  1. Literature on police reforms

There are over three dozen official reports on police reforms in Pakistan. These reports constitute literature that must be treated as a point of departure on the subject. Urban policing did not get much attention in earlier reports. The 2019 Police Reforms Committee Report (PRC Report), however, was the first report to have expended special attention to urban policing. Its terms of reference, inter alia, required:

“Suggest revamping of urban policing by changing basic administrative structure, introducing better quality of command and control to ensure quick decision making and rapid response to meet public order challenges as well as the quality of access to the citizens seeking justice.”

Chapter 3 of the PRC Report analyzed this term of reference. It noted that police organizations in Pakistan are predominantly rural in nature. The recommendations included re-organization of police in cities, functional specialization (operations, investigation, traffic, public relations, law and order and information technology wings), use of information technology and community participation in alternate dispute resolution, etc. The Report also recommended the establishment of urban police stations and proposed the following:

“Each urban center shall have one Police station for roughly 250,000to 500,000 citizens called a Police Division. By this standard, Lahore shall have 20-25 Police Divisions instead of the current 88 Police stations. The area of three to four present Police stations with the right geographic contiguity shall be merged to form one Police Division.”

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The recommendations contained in the report were sent to the Federation and the Provinces for consideration and implementation.

  1. Police order, 2002

The Police Order, 2002 repealed the colonial Police Act, 1861 and introduced the concept of city police organization in big cities of the country. Accordingly, it proposed that city police chief be appointed in metropolitan cities. The concept was implemented in all the provinces as the capital cities were declared as ‘city police’ organizations with different police organizations in contradistinction to the ‘rural districts’.

After the Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment, however, the police law was treated as a provincial subject resulting in provincial police laws in the country. The KP Police Act, 2017, Sindh Police Act, 2019 retained the urban features conceived by the Police Order, 2002. The oversight mechanisms involving elected people were, however, never fully implemented. The Police Order, 2002, though not perfect, tried to address some of the challenges of urban policing.

  1. Safe cities and data analytics 

With the introduction of the first Safe City project in Punjab through the Punjab Safe City Authority Act, 2016, information technology was introduced at the institutional level to deal with urban policing. The strength of safe cities is the use of information technology, which has to be coupled with data analytics that requires linkages with provincial and national data warehouses in the country.

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For urban policing, the technology offers the promise of indiscriminate application of law and has the potential to bridge the gap of disorganization of urban spaces that are characterized by anonymity.

  1. Community policing 

Community policing has the unique distinction of being a philosophy, a strategy and a tactic simultaneously. In the context of urban policing, the Police Order, 2002, provided the legal basis of the Citizen Police Liaison Committee (CPLC). The Handbook on Policing Urban Spaces acknowledges community policing as a technique of urban policing.

The collaboration between community and police leadership often helps in the prevention of crimes as communities help in strengthening neighborhood watch apparatus. Alternate Dispute Resolution mechanisms also need community participation and through this arrangement, they help in establishing informal social control in the urban spaces.

  1. Traffic management and road safety

Urban centers are conspicuous by their traffic management and road safety issues. There have been experiments of introducing warden traffic management systems in cities, but road safety could not fully improve as the supply of vehicles on roads has not been fully regulated.

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The enforcement, engineering and education parts of traffic regulation have not been successful as the legal framework is extremely feeble and outdated. The architecture of road safety has to be considerably strengthened to complement the urban policing paradigm, which has its focus on crime control and regulation.

  1. Interface with local government

The success of urban policing is interlinked with the governance system of a city. In the case of Pakistan, the police are treated as a provincial subject and therefore the locus of control lies at the regional and not at the city level. The asymmetrical relationship of local government with urban policing must be carefully calibrated to cope with the challenges of urbanization.

  1. Linkages with national security

At the moment, an internal domain of national security is limited to counter-terrorism. This must be expanded to include urban policing to reassure the urban population about their security and safety. In addition, owing to the complexities of modern cities, the counter-terrorism part of urban policing requires intelligence-based operations with adequate safeguards for privacy and human rights.

Kinetic action must be choreographed with alternate strategies of narrative building, conflict management, predictive policing and citizen empowerment to dilute the cysts of extremism and vigilantism within urban spaces.

  1. Gender-based violence and child protection

The commonality of the urban population requires that women, children and vulnerable groups of society must be protected. Prevention of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and child protection are two tests that define the effectiveness of urban policing. Unfortunately, cities in Pakistan show an alarming rise in both categories and police leadership has to work hard to reassure women and children about police response and victim support.

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Legislation on both subjects has been enhancing punishments without adding dedicated resources to equip police to combat GBV and crimes against children on a sustainable basis. Sex offenders registry with not only convicted but accused may be a good solution with the exchange of information at the international level with other urban centers to ensure that perpetrators with recidivist tendencies are spotted and kept away from vulnerable segments of the society.

  1. Street crimes and financial disputes

Urban spaces are often characterized by street crime and financial disputes due to the increasing economic power of the populace. It must be noted that street crime is not a legally recorded and recognized category in Pakistan. At the moment, it is limited to crimes against property (dacoity and robbery). It must also include women’s harassment and rash driving that equally put citizens at peril on the streets of cities. After its proper definition, it may be properly measured to identify the hotspots and then to fight crimes in crime pockets by deploying more resources.

Likewise, the financial disputes also attract considerable resources of police as, most often than not, many police syndicates work with lawyers and traders to settle financial disputes by the coercive power of the state instead of resorting to civil courts where the civil justice is dispensed with snail’s pace. Urban police must have dedicated units to deal with both these types of crimes.

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Urban policing must be brought central to police and criminal justice reforms in Pakistan. The theoretical underpinning of leftist realism in criminology requires that not only the causes of crime but a steady increase in crime over a period of time be checked by police as a primary agent of the state. In doing so, elastic police organizations communicating with other government agencies must work with the community to reduce urban violence and to increase public confidence in their capabilities.


Kamran Adil is currently serving as Deputy Inspector General of Islamabad police. He studied law at Oxford University and writes and lectures on international law. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.