Policing is changing. Today’s crime landscape is very different to what it was ten or twenty years ago – it now encompasses a wider scope, with criminals operating on an increasingly sophisticated scale. Plus, with the advent of armchair criminals, hacking their way into valuable systems, police forces now fighting a war on a physical and virtual front.
This increase in the sheer number of actors and crime scenes that need monitoring has led to the rise of the crime analyst, to help spot trends and save the force precious time, as well as providing intelligence on what they might face, as we can’t afford to send in officers blind to potential trouble.
Whilst this has benefited forces in so far as providing a unified tactical and security operational system, and harnessed multiple data sources to gather intelligence for a comprehensive macro understanding of situations, it’s still not being used to its full potential. This is because the UK’s policing is used to working in siloed departmental teams, as opposed to sharing data centrally. This is not a criticism – it’s the way it’s always been done.
When you think about a police control room, think of all the data that is being logged – CCTV, automatic number plate recognition feeding into DVLA records, updated criminal records, which all go into a central database. The police can access a wealth of data, but they still rely heavily on good, old-fashioned personal intelligence – those who were involved in cases and can advise on the criminals, what they did and what happened to them. But then the trail hits a road bump – where they are now. This is where time and opportunity are lost, as forces wait for updates and work out if the person in question is still detained or has since been let out. It may be that they have since moved, and therefore are under the jurisdiction of another force, meaning the wealth of knowledge which some officers may hold will no longer be accessed as this personal intelligence can’t always be documented and therefore shared.
This is where the UK needs to put time and effort, to move away from the traditional approach and create a fluid and co-operative ecosystem. Technology can be a key part of this, by bringing together information from disparate databases (one for witness statements, one for ANPR etc.) into one, single pane of glass. We have seen how when forces work together and share data the results are fantastic (county drug lines, for example) – so imagine how crime prevention could be revolutionised, if technology helped forces to share data more collaboratively. Criminals hopping between counties could be identified and halted, increasing crime prevention rates, whilst saving time and money. It also has the benefit of enabling more police to be where they’re needed, instead of pulled in all directions attending crime scenes which could, in theory, have been prevented.
The challenge now is behaviour change. The technology is out there and ready to use, it’s just about bringing it all together, and changing our approach to crime which doesn’t end with an invisible line separating one force from another (and therefore insights into known criminals). We should be moving to a system where computers do the heavy lifting, with humans there to make decisions, to help drive an efficient outcome. The fact of the matter is criminals don’t operate within strict borders so we need to give our forces all the insights possible – by harnessing the power of technology to move into a new era of fighting crime.