Technology as a weapon in policing: P. Aravindhan, IPS
By Sanjay Pinto

Almost clean shaven with no handle bar moustache, slim and with no visible six pack, in plain clothes, P. Aravindhan can pass for a young software professional. In fact, that’s what he studied for. A Computer Science Engineering graduate from the premier BITS, Pilani, he had “no fascination for corporate life” and preferred “a field oriented job” with a burning desire to “contribute to society in some form.” The Indian Police Service involved “much more direct interaction with the public.” After a short  stint with IBM in Bengaluru, this middle class son of a retired Neyveli Lignite Corporation official Palaniappan and home maker Kalaimadhi, camped in Delhi to prepare for the Civil Services Examination. In one shot, he struck gold with an All India 164th Rank to storm into the 2010 batch of the IPS.

At the final interview stage, one of the questions posed to Aravindhan was how he would use his computer science engineering background in the bureaucracy. Pat came the reply: “In the changing crime scenario in the country, I will devise technological tools to always be one-up over criminals.” In hindsight, his repartee at the interview was not rehearsed but has pretty much become his goal in his IPS career.

(Pic: P. Aravindhan, IPS – Deputy Commissioner of Police, T.Nagar)

Right from his maiden posting as the Asst. Superintendent of Police – Tenkasi, Aravindhan hit the road running. To reduce the scope of palms being greased for Police Verification for Passports, he introduced an SMS system to alert applicants about the date and time of the officer’s visit, monitored by seniors. The tourist spot of Courtallam used to witness fatal accidents as well as crimes. “Through crime mapping of the area, we curbed crimes and brought down the accident rate.”

A few months before the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, Aravindhan was promoted and posted as the Superintendent of Police of Virudhunagar. Tackling caste clashes in this communally sensitive district was a priority. During the election, Aravindhan introduced an SMS based incident reporting tool. “This ensured a much faster response to incidents in polling booths, by deploying sufficient manpower and force, wherever required.” The polling was by and large peaceful, with these measures.

After a hiatus, the city beckoned. Aravindhan landed in the hot seat as the Deputy Commissioner of Traffic, South Chennai. “We coordinated with the Chennai Corporation to conduct a feasibility study with traffic diversions and pitched in with ground work for the T. Nagar Pedestrian Plaza and Multi Level Car Parking.”

In a reshuffle within the Chennai City Police, Aravindhan was transferred as the Deputy Commissioner of Police, T.Nagar. This is where his computer science engineering background came to the fore in full force. Arguably for the first time in India, a face recognition app to track down criminals was launched. The technology is aimed at storing photographs of criminals and keeping a tab on their movements through the scan and search method.  “Initially, we used it during the Deepavali shopping season in hubs like Ranganathan Street. We caught one person but the word spread that we had built a database of more than 600 photographs of criminals. This worked as a deterrent and no chain snatching incidents were reported with just one pick pocket case.” The app has even helped the cops zero in on older criminals, like a 55 year old man from Washermanpet who was involved in crimes between 2008 and 2010 and resurfaced after lying low for a few years. Through face recognition, he was caught while moving around K.K. Nagar and Valasarvakkam.

Like most young officers, 32 year old Aravindhan is active on the social media. There are rave reviews of his action based on whatsapp or facebook messages, like going to the root cause of an accident in Poonamallee and coordinating steps to repair the road to prevent a recurrence. Quite like a call to 100, his average response time to a text, facebook or whatsapp message is just a couple of minutes.

A complete outdoor person, Aravindhan has not rested on his laurels. Having won the  sword of honour for being the ‘Best Outdoor Probationer at the National Police Academy and trophies galore in swimming and athletics, he still sweats it out at the badminton court at the IAS Officers Mess and goes trekking. That’s when he manages to make time away from his college lecturer turned home maker wife Sindhuja and ten month old son – Arya Mithran.

In this constant debate over generalists and specialists in the Civil Services, here’s an officer who has clearly put his expertise to good use. That calls for recognition. But the officer who has taken the face recognition app to the next level is a tad camera shy! 

(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Analyst, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)