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Islamabad’s multi-million-dollar ‘Safe City Project’ fails to deliver results

ISLAMABAD: The residents of Islamabad were understandably alarmed when a group of unidentified individuals hoisted the flag of the Islamic militants Daesh — inscription: “Khilafat is coming” — in Pakistan’s capital city in the last week of September.
Law enforcement agencies, including the Islamabad Police, were unable to find those responsible, despite the city’s 1,900 surveillance cameras installed as part of the ‘Safe City Project,’ inaugurated in June 2016 at a cost of $125 million. The Safe City Project currently employs about 150 people who work under a police superintendent to conduct round-the-clock monitoring of the city.
“Unfortunately, the camera installed near the location of the incident was not working,” a senior police officer told Arab News, on condition of anonymity.
During the project’s inauguration ceremony, Pakistan’s former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan promised to weed out the city’s criminal elements. However, in the months since, the police have failed to solve a number of cases, including kidnapping, murder, carjacking, robberies and assaults on journalist, despite the much-heralded digital monitoring system.
Nadeem Syed, director of operations of a private security company in Islamabad, told Arab News that the real challenge for law enforcement agencies was to ensure that all 1,900 cameras are consistently maintained.
“Over 50 percent of the cameras in the city are not functional due to the negligence of the police,” he claimed. “Dust on the camera lenses makes it virtually impossible to get clean footage of any incident that may help the authorities recognize the criminals or vehicles used by them.”
Syed also maintained that there was a lack of coordination among police personnel. For example, if a carjacking is reported, he said, the department often fails to track the vehicle because there can be some delay before the Safe City Project’s control room is informed.
And because it is not being used properly, the multi-million-dollar project has been reduced to monitoring traffic flow or public rallies.
Former Inspector General of Police, Afzal Ali Shigri, told Arab News that the surveillance system is practically incapacitated after sundown.
“The cameras are unable to read vehicle registration plates or take a clear picture of drivers in the darkness,” he said. “This makes the whole system useless.”
Shigri also emphasized that better coordination between departments of law enforcement agencies, as well as training for the relevant staff, were needed to get the maximum benefit from the system.
Talking to Arab News, Islamabad Police spokesperson Naeem Iqbal recognized the limitations of the project, though he claimed that numerous cases of carjacking had been resolved with the help of these cameras.
“The police have so far recovered 190 stolen vehicles with the help of the Safe City Project,” he said. According to police sources, however, that success rate is well below 50 percent since more than 400 vehicles have been stolen in the city over the past year.
Iqbal stressed that it cost $5.7 million per year to keep the system properly maintained and fully functional. That figure was not being met, he added.

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