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Next generation policing a future view

Ian Blackhurst, executive director for public safety and health at Northgate Public Services, examines the key trends in policing expected to make a big impact this year.

From the use of artificial intelligence in social services to breakthroughs in gene therapy for improving healthcare, we are on the cusp of a technological renaissance in the public sector. And as set out in the ambitious Policing Vision 2025, policing is not about to be left behind.

In 2018, we will increasingly see a shift in police focus from “who dunnit?” to “let’s predict it”. Not as catchy perhaps, but far more effective in the longer term.

Emerging technology could transform the way police forces forecast demand patterns and prevent crime more effectively than before.

So, how might policing change into and beyond 2018?

Today’s generation of tech savvy citizens expect a joined-up approach across public services and technology must support both the police and their partners in delivering this.

The right tools will consign technological barriers to information sharing to history, transforming collaboration between different police forces and their multi-agency partners and enabling teams to access a shared pool of intelligence by default, rather than by request.

It will become possible to have a single, secure digital case file that is accessed and updated in real- time. With appropriate authorisation, the different teams working on a case of a vulnerable minor could see a timeline of activity – the admission to A&E, a drug related arrest, an unanswered social worker visit, a parent recently released from prison – and work together to act quickly.

The challenge of storing and managing the growing volume of information generated in this new world will be solved by a more familiar technology – the cloud. In 2018, more forces will look to reduce both the physical space and cost of maintaining in-house data centres and more information will be moved to secure cloud set ups, saving money, enabling a smoother data sharing process and allowing for capacity on demand.

Advances in data analytics and biometric technology are likely to have the biggest impact in the next year or two, supporting policing by helping forces target resources more effectively. 

Data analytics capability will make it easier for officers to fill intelligence gaps, generating leads and exposing connections between events and those involved more swiftly and accurately than any human could – freeing officers to focus on other duties.

Tools will also become available that allow forces to know where, when and how to make the best use of their limited resources, spotting trends as they develop, in real time, and enabling the police to evidence their effectiveness.

The next generation of CCTV and facial recognition technology will push the boundaries of what has come before. Thousands of images in a crowd or from a recovered laptop or phone could be scanned in minutes, triggering automatic alerts if a face matches someone on a local or national watch list.

Consider the following scenario, which could soon play out in forces across the UK. Mark has been charged and bailed at court for shoplifting in Kent. Biometric data was captured in custody and automatically uploaded on to a facial recognition system, such as NeoFace.

Two months later CCTV captures images of an unknown assailant carrying out an assault in Chelmsford, an area covered by a different force. The officer in Chelmsford uploads the CCTV images on to the system where facial recognition technology matches it to the stored custody image of Mark from across police borders. Mark is identified as a potential suspect and the investigation moves quickly forward.

Finally, in 2018, we will see officers becoming truly mobile for the first time as technology increasingly enables them to spend more time in their communities and less time deep in office-based administration. This is mobile enablement unlike anything seen before.

Real-time information about crimes, victims and potential perpetrators will be sent direct to officers’ mobiles and combined with data from other sources, making it easier for them to make the right decisions, swiftly. Imagine a tagged offender has been prohibited from contacting his ex-partner. Using technology such as geo-fencing and temporal awareness, officers will be notified and can respond immediately should he enter restricted areas at times he is not permitted to.

Officers will be also able to access facial recognition technology from their mobiles, enabling them rapidly to identify both suspects and victims in the field and collate evidence.

By embracing the exciting technological developments just over the horizon, police forces will put the information officers need into their hands and transform the way they keep communities safe, in 2018 and beyond.

Ian Blackhurst is Executive Director for Public Safety & Health at Northgate Public Services.