The world of public safety continues to be challenged and challenging: you know this already. The pace of change means that things rarely remain the same, day to day, week to week. Some of these changes are within our control and we can choose how to respond to them. Others simply arrive without warning and in these situations we can only react. But our greatest power lies in being able to predict future trends, understanding and pre-empting how these will impact public safety services and the people that you protect. So for us, which trends do we see now that will have a significant impact?
Crime is becoming increasingly transnational. Agencies have designed processes to control and manage the threat, like money laundering procedures, extradition and the European Arrest Warrant. But none of these were ever envisaged or designed to cope with the degree of cross border challenge that policing is facing in today’s digital age.
Data – and indeed criminal activity – can now be flashed at speed and volume around the world. Public safety agencies struggle to keep pace and are sometimes overwhelmed. Add in the rising sophistication, technical capabilities and resources of criminals in areas like cyber, and the challenges and fragility of outdated models mount still further.
A boundaryless, digital world changes the dynamic of the historic victim-offender-location dynamic. You can have multiple victims in multiple locations being targeted simultaneously by multiple offenders, all orchestrated from a far-removed legal jurisdiction. Or even nowhere else: in the cyber world, the very concept of “location” - even identity - is questionable.
But this continuing state of change also offers a significant opportunity. Now is the time to push beyond simple digitally-enabled efficiency and effectiveness improvements, to take the bold leap in to the next phase of reimagined services.
So, what does this mean for the future of public safety?
Changing structures, responsibility and accountability.
Within public safety itself, we will see a boost in international cooperation and collaboration, with both increased ambition and funding to do so. Existing structures, like multi-lateral cooperation agreements, will be revisited and reinforced. Technology companies – and the public themselves – will share responsibility for keeping others safe, particularly where Government may be ailing or failing. And the proverbial elephant in the room: force mergers, aggregation of common capabilities and a redefinition of the police mission for this boundaryless age.
Shift to more disruptive and preventative policing models.
An approach aimed at disrupting and preventing threat, risk and harm, rather than focusing on detecting and tackling it afterwards. A movement away from outdated frameworks to the adoption of technologies such as machine learning, analytics and artificial intelligence to both speed up access to information, but also to support officer decision making. An increase in the use of operational hubs to enable earlier, deeper and more enmeshed collaboration and analytics. Digital skills embedded across the public safety workforce as a foundation to new preventative, collaborative ways of working, rather than limited to a specialised few.
Increased transparency, legitimacy and trust.
Public safety organisations will be confident that any information they hold is safe and secure. They will have the right guidance and policies in place to govern its use, while retaining openness and transparency on how it is being used and the implications of decision-support algorithms. No public safety function will be labelled as a lesser “support” to frontline operations. Rather, all public safety capabilities will contribute directly to reducing threat, risk and harm – and use technology in partnership with humans to make sure that public safety services are as efficient and effective as possible. Public safety officials will have a greater understanding for how they have made decisions or approved interventions, with a refreshed code of ethics and professional standards.
Digital technologies will support – and in some cases be the root cause of – these changes. However, to truly succeed, these changes must involve more than the police. Our vision for public safety is one where the whole public and private sector ecosystem comes together, playing on each other’s strengths to keep people safe and secure. Protecting ourselves and others across the world from threat, risk and harm is the responsibility of us all. We need to act on it together.