While creating a culture that is accustomed to speed and convenience, technology has also paved the way for a new breed of criminality. For all the advantages there are risks, too, and so the growing need for a tech-aware and tech-enabled police force is clear. Delivering on a leading-edge technology security posture must be viewed as a priority by any UK government, and will require strategic planning for personnel, training, equipment, and, perhaps most importantly, citizen engagement.
It is actionable data that will power changes in policing. So much of our lives are logged digitally, and capturing data and transforming it into information provides an opportunity to enhance policing. Leveraging the value of existing police data with “open data” that exists online will provide more information for officers in real time. The continued use of legacy systems, in general, needs to be assessed across the public sector, in favour of more agile, cloud-based alternatives that allow seamless, real-time digital exchange.
If policing is to make a big digital step change and harness the power of data, then it will be through this dual focus: delivering actionable insights from internal police data and from data that already exists. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can play a key role in data science – collection, collation and analysis – but it is important to view them as assistants, rather than total replacements for human judgment.
Collaboration, between different police departments and indeed with non-police organisations, is necessary to keep people safe. Maximising legal and proportional shared intelligence should be viewed as a must for policing.
As well as the data science which underpins the intelligence gathering side of law enforcement, there are various nascent technologies that can also transform the physical, more operational side. The upcoming rollout of 5G technology can serve as a catalyst for this process, enabling the use of body-worn surveillance devices and biometric technologies, including new facial recognition checks.
Ensuring that the UK has a police workforce suitably trained with the skills to use them is as important as selecting the right technologies to pursue and to invest in. The future of policing should involve a drive for increased diversity in recruitment – not just in terms of background, gender and ethnicity to boost numbers, but in the nature of roles and expertise.
Existing staff need to be re-skilled and upskilled according to technological needs. Recruitment should become more specialised, while a greater rate of retention is likely to be achieved if members of the police workforce can feel as if they are being properly valued and continually developed.
The public’s awareness of technology will ultimately inform their perception. Citizens must be kept in the loop when it comes to how and why their data is being used. Transparency begets trust, and this, above all else, should form the foundation of the future of law enforcement in the UK.
Tim Crofts is vice president for business development and strategy at Leidos.