The role of technology in building a public safety ecosystem

Everyone is part of the public safety ecosystem. We are both givers and receivers in this network. This is easy to forget. As I pull into Liverpool Street Station each morning, I am reminded to report incidents or suspicious findings by the catchy slogan: see it, say it, sorted. This is a collaboration between the British Transport Police, the Department for Transport and the public. Public safety is for everyone’s benefit, but it only works when everyone buys into the system. Therefore, trust is a key component. 

But trust can be challenging, especially when the world is moving fast. According to Bernard Marr writing for Forbes, we have created 90% of the data in the world in the last two years. This data has a value, yet we give our data over to companies for free without a second’s thought – or, dare I say, without reading the terms and conditions. Our system was designed for a different world and must evolve to meet the new one. As a former teacher, I know however that adopting change takes time.  Curriculum updates don’t happen overnight: they require a huge operation of creating, delivering, upskilling. In public safety this same operation is complicated by a significant legacy debt of people, process and technology. 

Technology-enabled solutions are at the heart of building an ecosystem and support collaboration. This is the foundation for fast-paced change in public safety services, whilst maintaining citizens’ trust. However, to be a successful enabler, technology also relies on collaboration and coordination between organisations involved in public safety. The very act of building and implementing technology is itself an enabler to greater collaboration. There must be collaboration between suppliers to successfully deliver programmes that meet the needs of the organisation and citizen. There must be collaboration between police forces so that, to a citizen, there is a seamless experience no matter where you are in the country. Most importantly, there must be collaboration between policing, other government departments, academics, businesses and third sector agencies so that the whole system provides the maximum benefits for its citizens. This system needs to become preventative, rather than reactive. 

There are some great examples of organic police force collaboration creates better outcomes for the citizen. However, as in the case of the introduction of the Digital Policing Portfolio and the Police ICT Company in 2015, structure, governance and communication make these collaborations even more successful. The Digital Policing Portfolio under the National Police Chiefs Council is structured for a digital age to avoid duplication of similar initiatives amongst groups or police forces, consolidate learning and knowledge and - as the website puts it - ‘Reduce the ‘service lottery’ whilst enabling local tailoring and identity.’ There is a growing trend which shows more of these collaborations each month, putting policing in a stronger position. 

Cross-agency collaboration is vital to public safety, whether to prevent and tackle front line crime, reduce recidivism, or deliver justice in an accurate and timely fashion. There are ways in which technology can enable multi-agency working at local, regional, national and international levels – or even do that collaboration in the background on our behalf. For example:  

  • Case management: through platforms to enable data collection, digital evidence management, and insight sharing, as well as the actual processing of a case end-to-end through the criminal justice system 

  • Automation: through RPA and machine learning to remove mundane tasks and fee up joint resource  

  • Identity management: through biometrics to validate access and maintain security permission on data 

  • Collaboration: through office suites such as Microsoft O365 to support joint working  

  • Asset management: through distributed ledger and RFID technology for managing shared physical assets 

  • Resource allocation: through analytics tools to calculate the number and types of people required to meet whole-system demand across agencies – and where the costs and benefits lie  

  • Cloud: providing the ability to work – at pace and at scale – with agencies in a different geography 

  • Scenario planning: through digital twins to test scenarios for joint operations, plan resilience and model response 

 

In a world where data is more valuable than currency, technology is a significant enabler to extracting and retaining that value for the use of public safety services. However, technology alone will not be a magic bullet to solve many of the challenges that public safety is currently feeling. Rather, technology must be part of the solution, supported by processes, policies, organisation structures and a joint ambition. Collaboration must start with a collaborative intent.  

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