Harnessing New Technologies For Police Empowerment
A recent survey of 1,300 citizens across Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States highlighted changing attitudes regarding the evolving role of police services and their potential for greater efficiency using new technologies.
Citizens want to help prevent and fight crime, but they also want greater access to information. Almost 90% of citizens surveyed believe they are important participants in crime fighting, but a similar majority feel under informed of local police activity. This demonstrates a problematic communication gap, and there is a strong belief that digital communications, especially social media, could be the solution.
Social media is a hugely useful tool for the police, both as a means of communication and as an observation arena for criminal action. Crime often happens wherever people gather, and increasingly people are gathering online, in social networks and communities. Police can conduct investigations and collect evidence from the trails of communication left by criminals, and can use this information to predict patterns of crime as well as to prosecute criminals.
As a means of communication, social media offers a uniquely collaborative engagement process, and engenders trust by enabling police to speak directly to the public. Despite these advantages, three quarters of all respondents said they would like to see police forces increase communication through digital channels, yet only 20% of respondents said their police forces were actively pursuing this. Police continue to rely heavily on traditional media channels such as newspapers and radio or television news.
In addition to satisfying citizens’ thirst for information, digital channels provide clear benefits for police forces. They are a cheap and efficient medium to disseminate information, and lowering costs and increasing efficiency means that police forces can deploy resources and manpower on the streets to combat crime. Furthermore, using digital channels to communicate is faster which offers obvious benefits when dealing with time sensitive information and, in the case of predictive analytics, can help to identify reoffenders and patterns of crime very quickly.
In Santa Cruz, California, police applied predictive analytics to their burglary data to identify the streets at greatest risk. This resulted in a 19% drop in burglary theft in the area without the need to deploy additional police officers. As well as this, it is particularly effective at reaching a younger, tech-savvy generation and hard to reach groups such as gangs or anarchists, who are more likely to be using a modern medium of communication.By adopting new digital technologies, police can create new communication channels to engage citizens and gather leads to support their investigations.
The survey identified six key steps to help police services prepare for the future and harness these new technologies:
1. Police must identify the most dynamic, personalised and cost-effective methods of communication. Citizen engagement should increasingly be online and social, and underpinned by trust
2. Officers must be empowered to use these tools to access real-time information, increasing speed and efficiency
3. Infrastructure and departments must be optimised to increase agility and lower costs, allowing police to allocate budgets to core policing tasks
4. Analytical initiatives should be embraced as they offer key insights in real-time intelligence, helping to better equip police officers and drive police services for the future
5. New digital channels and communication strategies should engender an increasingly collaborative and productive relationship across voluntary, public and private sectors, as well as with citizens themselves
6. Finally, police forces must equip leaders with the skills to manage and deliver change effectively. By fostering a climate of change acceptance and readiness throughout the organisation, forces will be prepared for the evolving nature of their operational environment