DUBAI // As the tens of thousands of daily passengers on the Dubai Metro speed towards their destinations, Col Abdulla Ali Abdulla al Ghithi would like them to feel safe knowing one thing: "The eyes should be everywhere." About 500 closed-circuit TV cameras keep watch over the system - a number that will grow to about 3,000 by the end of next year.
By then, a cadre of 800 officers, operating out of two new Metro police stations, will be patrolling as well. And Col al Ghithi says it is all part of the Transport Police's efforts to make the Metro attractive, safe and user-friendly. Officers "can take control and care of the people as well as provide safety for passengers," he said. The two small police stations at the Khalid bin Waleed and Union Square stops will allow officers to deploy more efficiently, he said. Officers will closely watch the CCTV cameras and track problems, including crime.
"In the future we want statistics on the crimes that are happening and in which stations so we can increase the number of police on duty in the station," he said. "Mall of the Emirates had around 49,000 people through it last Tuesday and we knew we had to put more police there." It will take another six months and the opening of the other 19 stations for the first batch of data to be analysed. For now, though, the most common issue to emerge has been the refusal of men to leave the women's and children's carriage. That has been easily addressed, Col al Ghithi said.
Train attendants "say they will call the police, and then I think [violators] should leave the carriage, because everybody respects the police". The department's challenges, however, go far beyond logistics and public safety. The huge diversity of the population using the system means officers must be prepared to deal with many different cultures, languages and backgrounds, he said. The more widely spoken languages in the department are Arabic, English and French, but some members speak less common tongues such as Czech.
"We were lucky when we had interviews and found candidates with languages and this was good for us. The transport force is mainly made up of Emiratis and those from GCC countries," he said. Police officials visited London, Hong Kong and Singapore last year to get a feel for what lay ahead. "We learnt many things, " he said, adding that the London model of transit policing had been adopted for the Dubai force's training regimen.
"There are different cultures and nationalities in the UK like Dubai, which has more than 100 nationalities," Col al Ghithi said. "We knew the Dubai Metro would be used by many nationalities, not only locals. We have policemen who know how to deal with different nationalities. Sometimes they'll find uneducated people and they'll know how to communicate with them, while at the same time they find other crimes or see if something else has happened."
The 800 officers will, officials hope, include women from next year. "We are looking towards the future," Col al Ghithi said. Civil Defence and regular Dubai Police are always standing by in case of a major rescue operation or a disaster such as a fire, officials said. Fifteen bomb-sniffing dogs also are kept available. "We don't bring the dogs out in front of the people but if there is some complaint or doubt about something then we'll bring them in," Col al Ghithi said.
The Transport Police have been running mock disaster scenarios co-ordinating all the agencies that might be involved in responding. "We learnt that we had to watch how people congregated and then tell the people what gate to exit until support arrived from departments," he said. "The Transport Police can't work as rescue, which is a specifically trained task, but they can work as helpers when they arrive."
The end result? "When people see a policeman, they feel safe," Col al Ghithi said. Yesterday afternoon, Saeed al Khateri, an Emirati businessman who was riding the Metro with his family, said he felt exceptionally safe. "You see all sects of society in the trains and all nationalities," he said. "Nevertheless, I feel very safe in it and I trust to let my family to use it. I intend to use it daily for business as I live in Jumeirah and have work all over Dubai; it's perfectly convenient for me."
Another commuter, Jenna Sadgrove, said the police presence felt a bit oppressive at times. "I feel there is excess security in the stations," said Ms Sadgrove, an Emirates Airline cabin crew member. "As soon as you enter past the gates, you see police patrols everywhere, but once you are on the trains you don't see any. "I would not be worried of security threats in the future; the high level of security in the stations I think would deter any person from attempting anything."
@Email:firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Awad Mustafa