Punjab’s chief minister has not taken his foot off the pedal on Zainab’s case, as is evident from his recent visit to the office of DPO Kasur. The investigations, however, have not yielded much so far. The killer is still at large.
While investigations are under way, it is interesting to note that almost all the threads pursued by the police so far — CCTV footage, DNA and call records — relate to technology. Had the crime been committed only a few years ago, the investigators would be groping in the dark. But if technology can be of such immense help in solving crimes, are we doing all that is possible to use these tools effectively?
Firstly, the fact that the police failed to take action on 11 preceding crimes in the same string has raised doubts over their capability to use data effectively. While there have been pilot projects to identify crime hotspots, by plotting crime data on GIS maps, the use of such hotspots has not been mainstreamed, preventing timely action by the police in case of peculiar crime patterns.
Furthermore, with the advent of safe city projects, use of CCTV cameras in particular has gained popularity. Such projects around the world, however, often integrate with private security systems to enhance their reach manifold. But in Pakistan, these modern surveillance systems remain isolated. Even in Zainab’s case, the CCTV footage aired on media came from a private unauthenticated source.
Secondly, DNA found on the victim’s body is the most solid lead the police has. Unfortunately, the government does not have a very extensive DNA database to compare it with and generate any meaningful leads. Pakistan does not even have any legislation to set up a DNA bank. The exercise of getting DNA samples from thousands of people from the area is a time-consuming exercise and may take years, without certainty of success.
The UK’s DNA database has 5.7 million profiles, meaning that one out of every 12-13 people is registered in the database. Considering that 80% of these are males and most coming from criminal records, the chances of finding a match increase tremendously. No wonder in UK there is a 63% chance that a crime scene profile matches against an already stored profile.
The Punjab Forensic Science Agency is one of the greatest achievements of the provincial government, with state-of-the-art facility, equipped with polygraph machines, DNA analysis and computer forensic capabilities. Nevertheless, the facility has been severely underused. One could see scores of crime scene investigation vehicles parked in the compound, without being put to optimal use. The police don’t have any protocols for preservation of crime scenes and rarely do they request support from forensic experts. Even in these rare cases, the crime scene is often contaminated by the time forensic experts take charge.
Use of call records and geo-fencing of crime areas is the third thread pursued by the police but such techniques can only be useful if communication patterns have something to do with the crime. These could help in Zainab’s case, only if the crime involved more than one person and they had communicated during the crime occurrence. Whether that was the case or not remains to be seen.
While the police might get lucky and apprehend Zainab’s killer, we must realise that such crimes cannot be solved merely by high-profile inquiries or nudge by political bosses and instead require a robust system that can only be built over time.
Whatever noise we make, we can never compensate for the police’s lack of responsiveness in the initial few hours, neither can we retrospectively collect a large number of DNA profiles in a short span of time. What however can still be done is to learn from this incident and start building a law-enforcement system capable of solving such crimes in future.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd, 2018.
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