ICTs for Government Transparency

In the Case Studies section

eTransparency Case Study No.7

eCOPS: More Open Handling of Criminal Cases in India

Case Study Authors



The police force in Andhra Pradesh (AP) state, India, introduced a network-based system (eCOPS) in 2002 to help, among other things, improve the openness with which criminal cases are handled.

Application Description

eCOPS is intended to provide total computerised information system support for the work of the police. Its primary activities are not transparency-related, but help provide police officers with information on criminal cases and on criminals. eCOPS would also help provide division heads and senior officers with management information about crime control, and about administration and support services such as accounting and personnel management. The system can also provide access to information from external systems in hospitals, jails, passport offices, etc. to help in gathering data on criminals, victims and witnesses.

In India, if a crime is committed, the victim (or a witness) must go to the police station where they live, and report the crime which is then said to be registered. The duty officer in the station fills in a First Information Report (FIR): a statement of details as recalled by the victim. Previously, this has been a paper-based process, and paper records were easily manipulated or lost. With the eCOPS system, a victim could go to any police station (not just their local one) and the duty officer can register the crime direct onto the system. eCOPS' contribution to transparency would arise from that fact that, once a case has been registered on the system server database it cannot easily be changed. The person who registered the case could also get access to case details and progress at any point, either by going to any police station and requesting an officer to access their case on eCOPS, or by accessing their case details online via the AP Police Web site using an FIR code number that is issued at the time of registration. Available case details would include the FIR, actions taken, actions pending, other crime details, etc. The victim could lodge a complaint if they see from accessing case details that the case has not been registered properly, or that there has been no progress made on the case since it was last accessed. Finally, senior officers in the police service could also use eCOPS to monitor case details and progress. All of this affects the transparency of case handling, and the accountability of police officers.

The system is still at a relatively formative stage. At present, it only covers a limited number of functions, and only four pilot locations in the state. There are planned expansions to deal with mobile data gathering, traffic management, analysis of gang activity, police training, and other facets of police work; and a planned roll-out to the whole state.

Role of ICT

The eCOPS system was developed and is maintained by the Police Computer Services department, in collaboration with two private vendors: Sun Systems and Pioneer Systems. Sun provided the AP State Police with multiple E450 Sun servers to run this project across the whole state. A core focus of eCOPS is its Oracle-based crime databases. It maintains a database of listed offenders in all criminal cases reported in four initial locations: Hyderabad, Vijaywada, and Vishakapatnam cities, and Srikakulam district. During six months of operation, the department generated information on 11,000 people accused in various cases in Hyderabad alone, while it collected data on 4,000 other offenders listed in Vijaywada, Vishakapatnam and Srikakulam. Once eCOPS is extended to other districts in Andhra Pradesh state, the department hopes to have India's largest criminal database. The database can be accessed at a number of individual police stations through a computer network, thus assisting police officers in their investigations, for example to check a criminal's details during interrogation. A user-friendly interface has been developed that enables the system to be handled even at constable level.

The main role of ICTs in transparency would be in providing members of the public with disintermediated access to information on case progress via the Web without the need to have any contact with a police officer. There is a plan to take this disintermediation further by allowing online registration of cases.

Application Drivers/Purpose

The main purpose behind the eCOPS system was to improve the effectiveness of policy performance; to improve the efficiency of police procedures; for example, by eliminating redundant processes in the registration of criminal cases; and to improve the quality of management information provided for senior policy decision-making, particularly through integration of previously separate information systems.

Within the focus on effectiveness, there was a concern about the non-transparent, even dishonest nature of police work, which had become synonymous with corruption and delay. The intention was that the new system - through its automation of previously human processes, and through its state-wide and online accessibility - would make the registration, processing and follow-up of criminal cases more open. Under the existing regime, many police require a bribe before they are willing to register a case, and also require a bribe to be paid before they answer any query about the case, such as its progress, or other information held on file.

It was partly this poor image of police functioning, that led the Chief Minister of the State to impose the system on the police service. There were also drivers from the failure of police to properly prosecute some high-profile criminal cases that had political overtones; something which was politically-damaging and seen as requiring an equally high-profile reaction.


Police officers at all levels are the key stakeholders for the eCOPS system. Victims of crime are the other main group who have consciously been included in the stakeholder map for the system. Though not consciously included, criminals represent the final major stakeholders. Minor stakeholders are the other players in the criminal justice system such as the judiciary and prison systems.

Transparency and the Poor

There has been no specific effort to address the needs of the poor in the eCOPS project. However, the poor are victims of crime and their needs are therefore indirectly addressed in the ability to register and follow-up a criminal case at any police station (thus saving both time and transport costs), to follow-up cases online, and in the intended reductions in bribe-paying and delays. Any cost savings have a disproportionately beneficial impact on the poor since they represent a much higher proportion of income. Greater equality of treatment will equally bring a disproportionate benefit to the poor, who lack political and social capital, and can often find themselves the subject of police harassment. Nevertheless, some aspects of the system are still unequal, since the poor face barriers to making use of the online facilities, including widespread illiteracy and lack of access to computing facilities.

Impact: Costs and Benefits

The original cost estimate for eCOPS was something over US$3m in direct costs. Using eCOPS leads to a significant reduction in time required to register a criminal case, and to locate relevant information; this can also enable a cost saving for the police and for crime victims. For example, it would previously typically take a victim some days to get their First Information Report properly recorded; with eCOPS this process would take just an hour or so. Theoretically, those who are victims of crime away from their home can now register the crime immediately, rather than having to return home as they would have in the past. eCOPS should also save labour costs in the automation of many file transfer and data-gathering activities, and should improve the quality of police management decision making. By disintermediating police officers from some criminal case processes, the system could improve the transparency and reduce the corruption of police activity. It could also have an internal transparency role, by enabling senior officers to monitor case performance.

However, these benefits are presently prospective rather than actual since the eCOPS system has run into several implementation challenges, described below. The pilot scheme has proven the theoretical worth of the system, but the ability to scale-up to a full implementation is currently unknown because the pilot system has not been properly implementable in practice.

Evaluation: Failure or Success?

There has been no formal evaluation of the project, and its future success or failure is, at the present stage, unclear. However, its current status is largely unsuccessful: although the central databases have been populated with some records, there has been no real impact to date on the processes or transparency of case registration.

Enablers/Critical Success Factors

Since the case has not yet been a success, it is not possible to identify any critical success factors.


  1. Lack of public awareness and trust . Even in those pilot locations where the eCOPS system has been introduced, there has been only a low level of public awareness of the system. For those members of the public who have been aware of the system's existence, there has been a lack of trust. This has partly been a lack of trust in the Internet, and a feeling that personal information placed online about crimes suffered and other criminal case details will be insecure. Public attitudes to the police can also not be changed overnight. So, for e-transparency systems, it is not simply a case of "build it, and they will come".
  2. Police resistance . Corrupt police officers face a loss of income and power as a result of the eCOPS system. They have therefore placed barriers in the way of its implementation, have failed to make the public aware of the system, and have avoided using most of the facilities offered by the system.
  3. Lack of digital citizen identification . Use of the planned online case registration requires some means of validating the identity of the citizen. The intended mechanism is an online social security/citizen number database. At present, this is not in operation.


  1. Ensure data privacy and security, and system reliability . Data is the bedrock of any e-transparency system, and it must be duly cared for. Proper controls must be put in place to ensure the integrity of the data on the system. These will include technological controls such as application controls (helping eliminate errors in data entry); access controls (such as password systems and other authentication mechanisms); and communication controls (such as encryption). However, they must also include 'softer' elements such as personnel controls (e.g. separation of duties), and administrative controls (such as data audit, backup and recovery processes). None of this will be effective, though, unless a proper regime of incentives and disincentives in put in place to ensure stakeholders are motivated to uphold data quality.
  2. Conduct public awareness campaigns . Most e-transparency applications involve citizens, but citizens will not make use of those applications if they are unaware of them. Therefore, there needs to be a significant investment in raising public awareness. In cases like the one described, this can also act as a lever to encourage greater uptake of the application by government employees.

Further Information



Case Details

Case Editor : Richard Heeks.
Author Data Sources/Role : Direct Role.
Centrality of Transparency : Secondary. Type : Transaction. Audience : Mixed. Content : Sector-Specific. Sector : Security Services. Outcome : Largely Unsuccessful.
Region : South Asia. Start Date : 2002. Submission Date : December 2003.

Last updated on 19 October, 2008.
Please contact richard.heeks@manchester.ac.uk with comments and suggestions.