The Tech Of Policing: Part 1: The Digital Police

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Pronto is used by 20 police forces and more than 40,000 officers across England, Wales and the Channel Islands, and could now be used by 10,000 in Scotland.

In this first part of a three-part series, Silicon UK considers how UK police forces are using technology today? With significant advances from drones to AI-based data analytics, constabularies have an array of tools to choose from. How are these technologies being used on the frontline to keep citizens safe?

Policing has always embraced new technologies as they appear. From the first fingerprints to data analytics used today, policing technology is continually evolving.

However, the digital space citizens inhabit have bought their own challenges. As PwC note in their report that considers policing in a digitally networked world, the approach police forces have to take to keep these intangible spaces safe, has had to develop at unprecedented speed.

“In short, the traditional model of frontline policing – what we might call the ‘police station and patrol model’ – is no longer suited to tackling new emerging crime types and the societal behaviours that data and technology are enabling.”

Speaking to Silicon UK, Sarah Searle, Director at Innaxys explains: “One of the biggest challenges facing the police force today is asset management. Generally speaking, data and assets are all stored manually. This leads to a host of issues, including driver corruption, file incompatibility, risk of lost, damaged or stolen data, and low disk space, to name but a few. Another issue is that data is often locked into proprietary vendor technology – call recordings and CCTV for example – which results in it being difficult and costly to access and often poor quality due to compression and compatibility issues.

Sarah Searle, Director at Innaxys.
Sarah Searle, Director at Innaxys.

“Digital Evidence and Asset Management (DEAM) platforms are changing the way digital assets are handled by both the police and potential witnesses. Having a central platform that integrates with other key systems and collates and stores assets alleviates any risk of lost or stolen data, while being easily accessible. Obviously full MoPI compliance is key for any DEAM platform.”

As no two forces are the same, their use and deployment of technologies have been diverse, to say the least. In the last State of Policing report highlights some of the continuing issues:
“We still have concerns about the development and use of information and communications technology. There are examples of forces making a significant investment in computer systems that aren’t providing the benefits they should. Worse, in a few cases, these poor systems – or difficulties in implementing new ones – have reduced forces’ effectiveness.”

“There has been some progress in forces working together to share systems. But too many systems are still procured separately, don’t work together properly, and have varying benefits not only for the forces themselves but also for the communities they are serving. There needs to be more openness about how forces are spending their investments in information and communications technology (ICT) and the benefits they are achieving.”

However, the NPCC (The National Police Chief’s Council) vision for policing in 2025 states:
“Digital policing will make it easier for the public to make contact with the Police wherever they are in the country, enable us to make better use of digital intelligence and evidence and transfer all material in a digital format to the criminal justice system. Policing will be agile and outward focused. Police forces and their partners will work together in a consistent manner to enable joined-up business delivery around policing support services and community safety.”

All Forces have roadmaps to guide their acquisition and deployment of technologies. Often, the issue is how these technologies will be integrated and, how forces will share assets, which continues to be a barrier to more joined-up policing.

Digital bobbies

Placing advanced technologies in the hands of frontline police has been in development for decades. Officers can now perform many necessary identity checks, blood alcohol level assessments and even drug tests at the roadside. Add to this infrastructure, advanced communications systems and data analytics, and a new policing technology ecosystem is evolving.

“Police Scotland is currently testing a GPS-based app that helps to pinpoint a person’s whereabouts in hard to map areas, such as woodland,” Joe Walsh, Director of B2B at Samsung UK and Ireland told Silicon UK. “Beyond being used to locate people, the app could also be used from an operational perspective. For example, to manage officers’ locations around a large crime scene or a major event, or to help out-of-town officers navigate unfamiliar areas.

Joe Walsh, Director of B2B at Samsung UK and Ireland.
Joe Walsh, Director of B2B at Samsung UK and Ireland.

“By integrating mobile fleets into a police force, we eliminate this stage, allowing officers to submit reports remotely. By doing this, we’re looking at saving up to two hours per officer, per shift, meaning officers can quickly return to duty, and community police presence is kept at a safe and reassuring level.

“In terms of data, we want police officers to have all the information they need to successfully protect their communities. Whether officers are in the field, in their vehicle or at the station, the use of our smartphones or tablets gives them access to everything they need: CAD, crime data, reporting, evidence management, schematics, forensics—all on a single device that goes everywhere they go.”

Ian Williams, Senior Consultant at Motorola Solutions, also explained: “Digital transformation journeys may not all be plain sailing. However, solutions that enable access to data while in-the-field, connecting siloed systems has allowed for real change in how police forces use the latest technology.

“By allowing quicker connection between in-the-field and at-the-station systems, connecting disparate Forces’ systems, and technology that provides and simplifies access to mobile data drives more significant efficiency. These changes expedite common processes, and so it’s much easier to generate widespread buy-in from those who use the technology most.

“One such tool that is used across half of UK forces is Pronto, a solution developed by Motorola Solutions that replaces the traditional pen-and-paper notepad for police officers. One immediate benefit of the technology is how it connects back-office and in-the-field systems.

Police Scotland recently announced that as a force, they have saved over 444,496 hours since adopting Pronto just one year ago. Furthermore, Lincolnshire Police estimated saving of £1.8 million per year with Pronto, through the removal of so-called ‘yo-yo policing’, where officers are travelling to and from HQ for mainly administrative purposes, further demonstrating the return on investment that digital transformation can have for police forces.”

Making connections between the masses of information collected by officers is a definite advantage. Protecting evidence and looking closely at the current bottlenecks that drain police time is in active development.

Brian Higgins, Security Specialist at Comparitech.com explains: “There is any number of technologies currently increasing effectiveness and public confidence in law enforcement. Police-worn shoulder cameras are incredibly useful in providing the best evidence in criminal prosecutions, and they also allow the public to see the police as accountable for their professional conduct. Dash-cam footage and other recording devices commonly used by the public are also useful in this respect.

“Most forces now have a dedicated social media presence which allows for far swifter dissemination of live situational guidance for the public and wider evidence gathering. ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) is an incredibly effective traffic management tool alongside its use in criminal prosecutions. There are also advances in both physical and digital forensic techniques which, alongside other ‘covert methodologies’ allow law enforcement to bring greater numbers and more sophisticated criminals to justice.”

Backoffice policing

Outside of frontline policing across the UK’s diverse communities, policing, today, is characterised by the collection and analysis of data. Says Andy Davies, Senior Consultant, Police and Intelligence Services at SAS UK and Ireland: “Crime and intelligence analysts have been making strides with data analytics. The application of analytics in policing can be split into two broad areas. Firstly, resource and demand analytics are helping to ease the pressures on an already over-stretched force, assisting with the management of police resources both in real-time and for forecasting, demand planning and prediction.

Andy Davies, Senior Consultant, Police and Intelligence Services at SAS UK and Ireland.
Andy Davies, Senior Consultant, Police and Intelligence Services at SAS UK and Ireland.

“Secondly, police officers are using investigative and detection analytics to solve and prevent crime through alerting, modelling, risk scoring and threat prediction. Here, there are countless applications, whether it’s using text analytics to analyse statements or implementing predictive analytics to identify emerging threats and focus resources more efficiently.

“That said, analytics isn’t a panacea and should not be treated as the holy grail for tackling crime – officers and staff will always remain fundamental in policing and these solutions serve to support their expertise rather than replace it. By providing the force with meaningful insights from complex analytical data, analytics complements the expertise of officers and helps to drive smarter, potentially life-saving decisions.”

Policing, like many businesses, captures the mass of data. Understanding this information and analysing it for actionable insights, is taking a quantum leap forward thanks to AI.

A report Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) concludes officers are suffering from information overload, but also, that the systems and algorithms in use should have legal and ethical guidelines. The report commissioned by Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) points to potential issues with bias, particularly with predictive analytical systems in use across some Forces.

Roger Taylor, chairman of the CDEI, said: “There are significant opportunities to create better, safer and fairer services for society through AI, and we see this potential in policing. But new national guidelines, as suggested by Rusi, are crucial to ensure police forces have the confidence to innovate legally and ethically.”

Motorola Solutions’ Ian Williams gave Silicon UK an example: “The current global pandemic has focused police attention on cloud services. COVID-19 has placed the spotlight on agile technology solutions for police forces. More generally, police are swamped in terabytes of data which puts them at risk of being less efficient. Integrated Cloud control room solutions can break down silos, increasing the ability to deliver information and intelligence where it’s needed.”

Policing today is multifaceted and uses an array of technologies. In their report, PwC concludes: “Today’s policing ecosystem has moved far beyond the traditional confines of the police station and patrol model and is being defined – in real-time – by sociopolitical challenges, emerging technologies and demographic changes that would stun Sir Robert Peel if he were alive today. Business, as usual, is not an option. Fortunately, there are encouraging signs of innovative thinking among some police organisations, which we hope will offer inspiration to others looking to tackle these challenges.”

Silicon in Focus

Giovanni Gaccione, Law Enforcement Practice Leader, Genetec.

Giovanni Gaccione, Law Enforcement Practice Leader, Genetec.
Giovanni Gaccione, Law Enforcement Practice Leader, Genetec.

Giovanni is responsible for the law enforcement practice at Genetec, including market insight and development, product initiation, and application portfolio development. Since joining Genetec in 2012, he has been assisting customers in system design, training, and pilot project setup. Giovanni’s experience in both physical and cybersecurity, as well as his relationships with the company’s most strategic law enforcement customers, allow him to bring innovative solutions to Genetec staff and customers

In the past, the police have been slow to adopt new technologies. Has this now changed? Are police forces using the latest technologies to fight all types of crime?

“On the contrary, I believe policing has always been one to adopt technology as a toolset. What I think has changed is that this concept of buying a “tool” is no longer relevant. Policing over the last few years (and even more so in the past few months) is exposed to many facets of public safety. Using technology is no longer enough to provide a comprehensive response or strategic analysis.

“What we see in the last 18 – 24 months is that policing has correspondingly changed its view of technology to the private sector. This is because it is no longer about the “widget,” but rather the outcome and what collection of tools can fulfil that strategic vision.

“Some markets call this “transformation”, “smart city”, or “safe city”. What it boils down to is that policing has now accepted that this needs to be a coordinated (loosely or tightly) effort. This coordination is divided into three pillars (Technology, People, Vision). When all three of those are accounted for the success that we have seen has been extraordinary.”

Can you point to a current technology that is having positive and tangible impacts on policing?

“The single most important technology to have emerged is the cloud. Similar to the evolution that policing has seen over the decades from phones, to Land Mobile Radio (LMR), cloud is the next medium that will propel policing in a new direction, providing the next level of interaction between citizens, stakeholders, and technology.”

Are the mobile digital technologies police officers are now using mature and in widespread use across police forces in the UK?

“Mobile itself is still in its infancy, but it’s needed as part of the exploratory phase. If we look at trends on a seven-year timeline, we are at year three of that cycle. This means that policing understands that it is needed, they understand the power, and they have been successful in some fundamental aspects of the use of mobile.

“That said, we are not at the point of this technology being an integral part of the new age of policing. There is still a lot of “digitisation,” meaning “take what we do today and make it digital, easier, and more accessible”. This is not an innovation in policing, but rather a re-platforming of previous activities. When we fundamentally revise the practice of policing in light of new technology, it can be said that we are reaching a higher level of maturity. Right now, we are seeing the discussions happening to align the practice of policing with the promise of new technologies, combined with deep community engagement and a clear vision of the future of our cities.”

Cybercrime if often in the news headlines. Can you briefly outline how the Police are using technologies to fight digital crime?

“Cybercrime is a large net of different types of crime untethered from geography or jurisdiction. The “jurisdiction” is a fundamental concept in policing to this day, but cybercrime destroys the relevance of a clearly defined jurisdiction. The creation and adoption of cybercrime units have been slow to start, and typically they are found mostly in specialised units at larger agencies.
“The reality is that cybercrime is on the rise, and similar to when forensics was introduced to policing we will see the same motion with cybercrime: what we will see is that as more tech-savvy officers join the force and become trained in cybercrime, the practice will flow to lower levels of policing. Cybercrime today has a unique name, but in the near future, it will just be a crime. If you hack an ATM in your local town and withdraw all the cash is that a crime or cybercrime?”

Is effective policing today about data and how effectively it can be analysed?

“As of today, policing understands it is sitting on a mountain of data that it needs the right tools, people, and processes make better use of. The challenge is how to best use technology to clean that data and present it in a format that human operators can make sense of. Machines can do the heavy lifting while people must call the shots.”

How do we harness the power of digital, data and technology to protect better the communities the police serve?

“The first step is the people as, without a clear vision of the problem and the correct implementation, no large-scale technology transformation is possible. Too many initiatives take a top-down approach when what is needed is first to gain an understanding of what the community needs in today’s environment.

“We live in an age where within 18-months technology can be obsolete, so Police and the communities they serve must be in sync if we are to deploy and evolve solutions that deliver long-term value. It would be beneficial to institute greater use of pilot testing with beta groups and community members that are willing to test out new services. Once we do that, we can begin to understand better what we need from our technology.”


In the second part of this series, we will be looking closely at how the police are using data to fight crime.

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