Is Lahore's Dolphin Force a waste of public funds?

Three months since its launch, the force seems to already be plagued by mismanagement.
Published July 9, 2016

It’s hard to miss the latest addition to Lahore’s ever-growing police force. With their spanking new uniforms, top of the line motorbikes and Bluetooth mic-equipped helmets, officers from the Dolphin Force (DF) can easily be spotted as they patrol Lahore’s streets with an aim to curb crime.

“When they’re on the street, the police receive fewer calls,” boasts DIG Operations Haider Ashraf, adding that the crime rate has already decreased in Model Town and Sadar, especially during the force’s patrolling hours.

The stats partially back up his claim that street crime has fallen since the inception of the force. But beyond its shiny exterior and the early reports of success, is this new branch of Lahore’s hydra-headed police force really worth the nearly one billion rupees of investment?

And is its fate going to be any different from the existing forces in the city that are beleaguered by mismanagement and poor resources?

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Dolphin street crime control force patrolling on their first day on the job. —Photo by Azhar Jafri/White Star
Dolphin street crime control force patrolling on their first day on the job. —Photo by Azhar Jafri/White Star

Shiny toys, poor functionality

The force’s first batch of officers is already plagued by a lack of resources and ill-planning.

The 700 officers on patrol have only been given one uniform each. Officers have 8-hour shifts daily and have no choice but to re-use the same uniform for their shifts the next day. Other than the fact that they don’t have sufficient amount of uniform, the Rs50,000 apiece attire is made out of parachute material, which is ill-suited for Lahore’s sweltering heat.

“The black cloth is too hot for the weather,” an officer says, requesting anonymity. “It gets difficult to roam around after a few hours”. Four DF officers have also fainted while on duty.

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The DIG Operations admits that uniforms are an issue and that officers cannot be expected to perform their duties properly wearing parachute-material uniforms for eight hours a day.

To fix the problem, he says, “we’ve sent a request to change the material. Now, we will have uniforms made out of cotton”. The new uniforms will be made in Sialkot and are supposed to ready within the next month. There is no indication, however, on how much they will cost.

Another expensive error is the choice of 500CC Honda heavy bikes. Bought for Rs1 million each, the DF was initially given 35, with a plan to eventually bring the number of bikes up to 300.

The provincial government had wanted 2500CC bikes but went for the 500CC ones on the recommendation of the Turkish police experts. But what is actually hard to understand is why such bikes were chosen when there is not a single workshop in the city that knows how to repair them.

Any serious damage to the bikes would force the department to park them in the garage.

Ashraf is quick to counter and says that they are working to solve this issue as well. “We have finalised a deal with Honda Pakistan,” he states. “They are bringing in equipment required to repair the bikes”. The police chief, however, did not produce any document to prove that a deal was in the pipeline.

The helmets worn by the officers — bought at Rs35,000 apiece — also don’t look like they are going to be put to full use anytime soon, as the Bluetooth attached to the helmets has not been integrated into the force's communication system yet.

The officers were supposed to have cameras on their uniforms in order to record their interactions with the public, but given the expenses, they have not been installed yet. A much-touted tracking device has not been put into place either.

—Photo by Kashif Bhatti
—Photo by Kashif Bhatti

Ill-planning overall

Another big expenditure is the purported Rs50 million spent on training the Master Trainers — 25 police officers from Lahore who were flown to Turkey to be trained by their Turkish counterparts.

Upon return, the Master Trainers train the entire DF. But 25 people can only train so many people. They have to leave their active duty for three months to train their fellow officers, which reduces the number of officers available for patrolling.

There are also some technical issues.

"We were trained on 660 CC BMW bikes in Turkey,” explains one Master Trainer. “But here, we are using different models”. There might only be a difference of 160 CC between the two bikes, but the officer says that it is substantial enough. “If we want to train other candidates for the force, we’ll first have to master our skills on these bikes,” he adds.

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Salary is also an issue. For only Rs22,000 a month — the same as a regular police constable — the trainers have to do their regular patrol jobs as well as train new DF recruits. Trainers complain that the salary is “simply not enough”.

“If more is expected from us, we should be paid accordingly,” says an officer. He adds that they were promised an additional Rs10,000 each, but they have yet to be paid.

Non-technical troubles

Four DF constables were recently removed from the job after it was found with the help of regular police that they had taken Rs90,000 in bribes from a drug dealer in Faisal Town.

Apart from taking the money, the officers were also trying to arrange a monthly payment arrangement with the dealer in return for safe passage.

DIG Operations Ashraf said that the officers were fired from the force so that an example could be made out of them. He hopes that this would deter other officers from doing anything illegal in the future.

Jealousy within police force?

Prior to the DF, Lahore used to have special patrolling units as well as the Muhafiz force which still exist. The introduction of the new force has received mixed responses from the existing police units. With many Lahore police stations having only two cars each, some senior police officers were unhappy at the government's decision to invest in bikes instead of more cars.

That said, many policemen are actually happy not to join the DF. While the gadgets may be an incentive, there is no increase in salary and enough checks and balances to keep regular police constables far away.

It is not very clear whether Lahore actually needs the DF, as the crime stats are only showing improvement in some areas.

There is, however, certainly a curiosity among people about the DF and Lahoris often enjoy taking pictures with the officers. But is it good PR work to increase the goodwill toward the police, or just window dressing a white elephant?

Whatever it is, the chief minister seems to think this Turkish law enforcement model is worth investing in.

—Photo by Azhar Jafri/White Star
—Photo by Azhar Jafri/White Star

Daniyal Hassan is a documentary producer, and the bureau chief at Dawn News TV, Lahore.
He tweets @DaniyalHassan_i