COVID-19 threat prompts PNP to go ‘digital’

THE Philippine National Police is literally going ‘virtual’ and would be further speeding up their SMART policing program amid threats posed by the COVID-19 virus, officials of the organization told the Journal Group yesterday.

“The general direction of the PNP is to go fully digital and we have money for that. We are going virtual and the game-changer is our ICT (Information Communication Technology) roadmap,” said PNP chief, General Archie Francisco F. Gamboa who has opted to hold virtual press conferences in his office, announcing his instructions and other directives and fielding questions from the press thru Facebook.

The plan is for the PNP to hold ‘teleconferencing or online command conferences and other meetings’ as part of its social distancing measures. Both the Upper and Lower House also have proposed the holding of online sessions in order to prevent their members and other employees from unnecessary risk of contracting the virus as doing so would defeat the purpose of the Enhanced Community Quarantine.

In the past, a PNP command conference is a widely-awaited event which is being participated by the PNP chief, members of his Command Group, the different PNP Directorial Staff, heads of National Support and Administrative Units and the 17 Police Regional Office directors, whether they are held at the Camp Crame Conference Room or in a Police Regional Office outside of Metro Manila.

Prior to the entry of COVID-19 in the country, Joint PNP-Armed Forces command conferences being called by President Duterte at the Presidential Palace means over 100 police and military generals and other senior officials attending the event. Add to the number of big volume of support staff and other employees required to attend those events.

Even anti-government protesters opted to hold ‘online rallies’ on Friday, Labor Day to observe social distancing to stem the spread of COVID-19 and amid orders for the police to ensure there will be mass gatherings in public.

Gen. Gamboa said they are readying for the ‘new normal’ triggered by the pandemic.

“In response to national government action to contain the pandemic, the Philippine National Police has laid down solid plans to implement the General Community Quarantine and extended Enhanced Community Quarantine in some areas in the country,” he said

The PNP chief said a newly-crafted PNP action plan is out of the drawing boards to strategize police operations and administration in response to the extension of ECQ in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon and selected provinces and cities across the country as well as to all the other areas under the General Community Quarantine or what we shall henceforth come to know as the “new normal.”

“We strongly encourage everyone to remain mindful of minimum standards on physical or social distancing, most especially those areas under GCQ with relaxed quarantine measures and influx of people due to easing of ECQ protocol in some areas,” he said.

The Journal Group earlier reported that the PNP’s SMART Policing program is seen as a project that will highly benefit the police force in particular and the Filipino public in general once it is fully completed with the end in view of further reducing crimes and improving police crime solution efficiency even after the Duterte presidency is over.

Broadly speaking, Smart policing is a combination of intelligent implementation of innovations in policing technology while at the same time implementing other existing  strategies such as Intelligence-led Policing, Hotspot Policing, Problem-oriented Policing, Community Policing as well as Sector Policing

The main man previously behind the SMART Policing program, former PNP Director for Information Communications and Technology Management and now PNP Chief Directorial Staff, Lieutenant Gen. Cesar Hawthorne R. Binag, said the SMART program is an acronym for Secured, Mobile, Artificial Intelligence-Driven, Real Time, Technology in the organization.

Gen. Gamboa said they plan to harness world-class technology in further addressing the problem on illegal drugs, crimes, terrorism and corruption amid President Duterte’s marching orders to keep the streets safe and ensure the well-being of every Filipino.

“What we need now is the real-time monitoring and digital recording of events,” said Binag.

Binag said the SMART Policing program approved by President Duterte will automatically address identified barriers to efficient PNP information management system brought about by limited budget, the organization’s inability to collaborate and cooperate thru shared data, its difficulty to manage and access shared information; its difficulty to integrate since there is no standard format of data and information; the presence of existing silos of information systems and limited information security to secure online transactions.

Another major internal challenge to be addressed by the program is the PNP’s limited radio connectivity which thus forces its units to rely on mobile phones and commercial telephones as well as less secured, less reliable and costly video and data connectivity.