How digital tools are empowering police officers and keeping the public safer
Podcast and guest blog: From the phenomenal progress in capturing criminals using digital evidence, to synthetic intelligence and integrating robotics, Phil Davies, Chief Superintendent Director of Information – Greater Manchester Police, and Matt Stagg, Digital Policing Lead – Capita Consulting, discuss these developments and more in a podcast that’s not to be missed.
Both Phil and Matt will be joining techUK on the 16 September for a panel discussion ‘Preventing and tackling domestic abuse in a digital age’. Make sure you register to attend here.
The police record millions of pieces of data every day which, if not cultivated to provide actionable insight, puts officers at risk of overload. There are 43 UK police forces, each with different levels of digital literacy – and it’s often seen as a specialism, not a core requirement.
These are just two of the challenges facing police forces as they equip themselves to tackle the ever more sophisticated criminal landscape.
As Phil Davies, Chief Superintendent Director of Information at Greater Manchester Police, said in our recent podcast chat: “Technology’s all about enabling better policing.
It’s as simple as that. We need to use all the tools in our toolbox to keep people safe, protect vulnerable people and lock the villains up. It’s only through connectivity of the information around us that we can make the decisions that allow us to do the policing that we need to do… It’s about freeing up our people so that they can work with people.”
We are now at the point where it’s possible to harness the experience and knowledge of years of active policing by officers in the community to build data-led models that help to protect the vulnerable and keep society as a whole safer from crime. These tools are empowering officers in the field to make decisions and freeing them from performing administrative tasks at their desks so that they can spend more time out in the community.
This is an issue of immense importance to our society as a whole. UK law enforcement has to adapt to the ever-evolving strategies and sophistication of technically enabled criminals to ensure that our people are safe, especially the vulnerable. And the UK public rightfully wants to know where their tax money is going and that the investments in digital policing are making a difference in policing and safety.
These advances are enabled by technology, but it is essential that we place humans at the centre of our new solutions. The new technology must work for the officers who use it, augmenting them to make them more effective and saving them time; and it must work for members of the public who interact with these augmented officers and also directly with the new digital systems to report crime and get updates on crime that affects them.
We can point to some active projects in this cutting-edge field that are changing police operations and improving outcomes for the public. Greater Manchester Police are using machine learning to create ‘smart forms’ for incident report capture, which dynamically change as information is entered, drawing on and adding to the vast repository of knowledge in the force’s data warehouse. This means less time filling out forms for officers and the public, and more chance that the data collected is actually going to make a difference.
The force is also experimenting with robotic process automation to remove the administrative burden of reporting and recording from officers, freeing them up to do the more human side of policing. Another area receiving attention is using simulation to help develop policy — using the data to model how the organisation might behave in the future through simulation based on what we know about how people behave in the organisation now.
However, there are some challenges that remain to be addressed. A key ethical consideration in digital policing is the collection, storage, use and disposal of data. Police forces gather a huge amount of data from public in the course of their work and must adhere closely to the existing regulations concerning data usage and privacy. But it doesn’t stop there: because this is a rapidly evolving area, some forces have forged strong links to academia so that they can constantly assess their operational practices against the latest thinking about data ethics and why it is so important for society. As Phil points out, this “gives us a kind of a test, a balance in relation to the methods we’re using”.
Another issue concerning data is the multitude of data sources which need to be accessed, synthesised and analysed in order to make a decision. There are 43 separate police forces, and each force has numerous internal systems which might hold records about an individual. In addition there are national systems and databases and other platforms that may even sit within partner environments like social care and health. Some of these are legacy systems with limited access and functionality. And so this data infrastructure needs to be addressed if we are going to tap into the true potential of data-led operations on the ground.
Finally, I would like to discuss an exciting aspect that I am experiencing first-hand with my team: the intersection of digital policing and the private sector’s implementation of technology. There is much that the two worlds can learn from each other, and it goes both ways. For example, we deployed an intelligence model designed for UK law enforcement to provide insight in the financial sector. And private sector companies are inspiring digital policing by their speed and agility in deciding that they’re going to invest in overhauling their data, in exploring automation and exploring AI.
Policing is phenomenal at responding in a crisis — for example the forces made rapid, aligned budget decisions in response to Covid-19. If we can explore the mechanisms and methodologies, decision-making and prioritisation that policing applies in a crisis, with a view to using those methods for everyday business decision-making, that would help UK law enforcement move forward effectively with its more business-based decisions.
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