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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Police Information Network

KARACHI: The role of the informer in crime detection

By S. Raza Hassan

KARACHI, July 13: Facing a dearth of modern methods and scientific technology, police investigations in the city rely heavily on mukhbirs or informers, and forensic evidence is relegated to a secondary position.

Many high-profile Karachi cases have been solved as a result of information gathered in this traditional manner, such as the bombing of the US Consulate on March 2, 2006, which killed 54 people and was solved recently.

City police chief Azhar Farooqi told Dawn that during the investigation of a case, the role played by informers and that of forensic investigation are both important.

“The informer’s role is usually pre-investigative and once information has been obtained, the inquiry officer acts on the tip-off and gathers forensic or circumstantial evidence,” said the CCPO.Another police officer admitted on condition of anonymity that “informers are a great help in the detection of crime and we take care to honour our commitments to pay for the information.”

It is important to keep such promises, he said, because if the policeman reneges on them, the mukhbir will approach some other policeman the next time he has saleable information.

An embedded tradition

The role of the mukhbir is so deeply imbedded in the country’s crime detection system that informers generally have legal protection. Sources told Dawn that courts will usually not question the police about the informer or the source of the information they acted upon, and when such inquiries become necessary, they are conducted in the privacy of the judge’s chamber.

Some senior Karachi police officers have, over the years, earned a reputation for keeping their ears to the ground and maintaining an extensive network of informers. Such officials become heavily dependent on their sources and reap benefits by solving cases or busting gangs.

In this context, the town police officer (TPO) of Clifton town, SP Azad Khan, said that informers’ role in policing is not limited to India or Pakistan but extends to Western countries where police operations often depend on tip-offs and inside information.

“The US, for instance, has institutionalised the role of the informer by setting up a help line where anyone can pass on information about any crime,” he commented. “The informers’ identity is kept secret and monetary incentives are offered.”

“Mukhbir ka anjaam”

According to ASP Sohail Zafar Chattah, TPO of Site town, there are generally three motives behind giving police inside information. The most obvious one is a financial benefit but in other cases, the informer may know the police officer personally. ASP Chattah added that, sometimes, a mukhbir tries to use a police officer by passing information to settle a personal score.

“Members of criminal gangs often develop differences over the division of booty; so, a disgruntled accomplice could turn informer and become the means by which the gang is busted,” said the official. “He is not in a position to sell his information, of course, but he can negotiate an assurance that he will not be prosecuted.”

However, passing information is by no means a safe business. A police officer said that the department sometimes find the bodies of informers, shot dead by criminals who discovered who sold them out. These bodies bear a slip of paper warning “Mukhbir ka anjaam” [the fate of an informer].

Monetary gains

Informers are sometimes paid out of a secret, discretionary fund which is not audited. This fund was created under the defunct district system to be used at the discretion of each district’s SSP. It is currently controlled by the city police chief.

However, a police officer said that it is quite rare for the city police chief to be approached in the context of paying an informer. “Policemen are generally not dependent on the secret fund and pay the informer from their own resources,” he commented.

In cases of reward money, however, an informer cannot claim any right over the announced amount.

Even if a criminal bearing head-money is arrested as a result of a tip-off, the informer has to stick with whatever deal he made with the police officer.


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