KARACHI: As the city police operational strength of less than 27,000 officials has remained stagnant over the past five years, the number of private security guards in the city has crossed the 55,000 mark amid a growing security threat, it emerged on Tuesday.

The situation has proved a boon for the private security industry in the metropolis where a single policeman protects the lives, property and legitimate interests of 1,524 people on average.

Data shared by the police shows that Karachi enjoys the services of total 26,847 personnel for active policing, while over 125 companies are offering services of some 55,000 private security guards to individuals and organisations according to the figures compiled by the All Pakistan Security Agencies Association (APSAA).

“There are some 55,000 private security guards registered with our companies operating in Karachi,” said Nisar Sarwar, chairman of the APSAA.

Police rules fix the minimum ratio as one constable to 450 people

He added: “In the south zone [comprising Sindh-Balochistan region with Karachi as its hub], we have some 143 registered members and nearly all of them are based in Karachi and doing their duty here.

“As the demand has been increasing gradually, the number of security guards following this trend has definitely risen over the years.”

On the one hand the rising trend of hiring private guards has brought more and more business opportunities for private companies, but on the other, it reflects the vulnerable security scene of the port city that has the lowest average of policemen per citizen in the region despite generating more than half of the national revenue.

A recent study carried out by the Karachi police and shared with the media indicated that the available strength of 26,847 law enforcers for the city is much below the requirement and a policy in this regard is required to be reviewed for the vibrant city of 22 million people.

“Of the 26,847 policemen, 8,541 are deployed for security purpose [protecting individuals and sensitive installations] and 3,102 personnel are deputed for investigation,” stated the police study.

“Only 14,433 policemen are there to maintain law and order and protect the lives and properties of 22 million people of Karachi. The 14,433 officials work on two shifts of 12 hours each, indicating an average of one policeman for the protection of 1,524 people.”

According to the Police Rules Chapter-2, it said, the total strength of police for watch and ward should not ordinarily exceed the ratio of one constable to 450 people.

A senior official believes it’s not only the ‘alarmingly low’ number of sanctioned police force for Karachi that has affected the overall performance of the department, the lethargic process of fresh recruitments has also been a hurdle towards better policing.

“There is hardly a police station in the city that functions with its sanctioned strength,” said a senior officer.

He added that 8,541 policemen from the available strength had been performing security duties of individuals, including politicians, legislators, high officials, businessmen, social figures and religious personalities.

“Some major cities of the world having similarities with Karachi in living conditions and crime culture are also far ahead in terms of police resources. In London, one policeman is responsible to serve 152 people, in New Delhi, 291 citizens are protected by a policeman and in New York, a police official serves 237 people. Even in Lahore, one policeman is dedicated for every 337 people.”

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2014