As a frequent visitor of the United Arab Emirates, I do normally take the opportunity to check the current ICT and Smart city trends in that country whenever I visit. It is no doubt that UAE always showcases the current trends in ICT, automobiles, buildings etc. Just some few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Dubai, one of the territories in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As usual, my visit to Dubai took me to some of the nice places and market areas. In one popular suburb called Deira, I found a very nice kiosk-like structure fully airconditioned, well painted with the inscription “Smart Police Station (SPS)”. I got attracted to the kiosk because of the word “smart”. As a smart city enthusiast, I am always eager to learn and experience new smart city ideas, so I went closer.
As I got closer, I saw the full inscription and details within the kiosk. The kiosk had the state-of-the-art technology equipment for audiovisual communication, scanning and printing but had no human police officer sitting there. I got curious and enquired from residents around. According to their accounts and other accounts gathered later, “SPS is the first smart police station that needs no interaction with any human. It offers 60 smart key services with 6 different languages”. SPS is seen as the future of policing around the world and especially for a smart city. Some of the services offered by the SPS includes traffic fines payment, good-conduct certificate application, home security, traffic status certificate, reissuing traffic accident reports, payment of impounded fees, and verification of driver labour complaints. Others include lost-and-found items, lost-item certificate application, filing of criminal complaint, detainee visit request, police report inquiry, vehicle inspection request and the likes.
Dubai SPS was established and inaugurated in September 2017. The SPS provides 24/7 service. Out of the over 60 services, there are 27 that involve direct contact with police through a 24-hour virtual connection to a control room and a further 33 that are fully automated.
From local media reports in Dubai, the general director of smart services at Dubai Police, Brig Khalid Al Razooqi is believed to have said “People often do not want to report crimes because they feel that they will compromise their privacy, furthermore some people are intimidated by the fact that they would have to go to a police station and deal with officers where language or customs would be a barrier therefore the Smart Police Station offers them private virtual interaction, direct access and a 24-hour service.” He went on to add that, “In many kinds of crimes that are reported privacy is required, when in the kiosk you are authentically identified through your Emirates ID for residents or your passport for visitors. A scanner and printer are provided when you file your complaint, then you would be connected to a police officer through video conference where your statement would be taken, and the case discussed”. The SPS also has functionality for payment of fines using credit cards and Near-field Communication (NFC) systems, and other cash payment systems. Members of the public can be able to pay for all services with NFC systems like Samsung pay and other providers as well as cash payments. This makes the system very flexible and accessible to all in terms on payment systems. The launch of Smart Stations is part of Dubai Police’s Smart Plan to provide completely virtual access for the public to police services by 2030.
Now back home in Ghana, we have huge deficit in terms of police to civilian ratio. We also have many police stations with inadequate logistics including books, pens, etc. In the whole of Greater Accra, if one needs to apply for a police clearance certificate, you would need to visit the CID headquarters for such service. We have residents queuing for voters ID card registration, queuing for National ID card registration, going through all kinds of frustration to access public services that can be automated – registration of businesses, payment of income tax, filing of tax returns, application of birth and death certificates, replacement of birth, death and marriage certificates, application of building permits etc. We have a very cumbersome customer service system in our public institutions and especially the police service, which breeds corruption. It may be a deliberate attempt by the actors to frustrate persons who try to access these services, so they kowtow to their corrupt demands. The state and government stand to benefit from the automation of all these services and in effect, increase revenue for capital and recurrent expenditure.
I only hope that in the not too distant future, we as a state shall see the importance of embracing smart city concepts through smart thinking. Even if we (Ghana) would not implement a smart police station, we should look at developing a home-grown concept or system which can be used by the masses at vantage points to access public services with no human interface. In eliminating the human interface, we eliminate corruption and deepen digitization and the use of ICT.
By: Samuel Hanson Hagan
Member: Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana
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