Digital technology has advanced more quickly in the last 20 years than any other technological revolution.
It poses several interesting challenges for law enforcement. But it also offers solutions to deal with them – especially adopting agile software platforms that can help agencies work in more versatile ways: so says Bryan Wheeler, Axon’s Vice President and head of product development for Axon Records. In this article, Bryan:
- Explains why digital technology may not always deliver anticipated benefits
- Calls for technology to be a true force multiplier to give agencies superpowers that eliminate tedious, inefficient work
- And outlines a manifesto for change to encourage a less risk-averse approach to decision-making and the adoption of versatile technology that enables agencies to work in more nimble and innovative ways
/ THE DIGITAL ENIGMA
Digital technology has transformed every facet of modern life. We’ve seen breathtaking advances in areas like computing, social media, communications, and medicine.
But there are costs.
Even before COVID, our day-to-day interactions were increasingly moving online. This can have far-reaching implications, including the types of problems the police have to respond to.
There are whole new classes of offences, like cyberbullying and online fraud, that weren’t even our vernacular 10-20 years ago. And the rate at which crime evolves typically outpaces the speed at which our criminal justice can adapt, leading to challenges in the way we police and prosecute crime in the digital world.
We also see a high degree of asymmetry in terms of technology adoption. First, law enforcement officers often have access to better devices and applications in their personal lives than in their professional lives, which can lead to frustration with the tools they have on the job. Additionally, members of the public engaged in criminal activity are often quite adept at adopting technology as soon as it’s available and certainly do not pause to consider the ethical implications of their technology. This makes law enforcement agencies feel like they are at a distinct technological disadvantage.
Increasingly, the public assumes, for good reason, that technologies like body worn cameras are ubiquitous. There is an expectation that every police incident is captured on video and subsequently available to the public. But in many jurisdictions this is not the case. Furthermore, people are often surprised to find that officers routinely use pen and paper for critical workflows – despite the fact that all of these workflows could be done more efficiently in a digital world.
However, the adoption of digital technology is no guarantee that an agency becomes more effective. When a piece of technology does not truly meet the objectives of an agency, it can lead to even greater inefficiencies, resulting in police forces requiring even more people to do the same work.
/ NEW CIRCUMSTANCES CALL FOR INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS
It is critical that public money is invested prudently. Tender programmes can therefore be exhaustive and exhausting. As a result, many technology vendors have far greater expertise in navigating the procurement process than they do in driving technological innovation. This dynamic is compounded by a selection process that is so slow that, by the time the technology is procured and deployed, it may be out of date. Furthermore, with budgets tight, there may be a reluctance to invest in new systems, resulting in technology landscapes that are often outdated and complex.
With many agencies managing an increased workload, we simply can’t afford such inefficiencies. Technology must be a force multiplier and to help give agencies superpowers that eliminate tedious, inefficient work. We need a new way to adopt technology that is less risk averse and more easily adaptable to ever-changing conditions.
/ A MANIFESTO FOR CHANGE: THREE WAYS TO DEVELOP SOLUTIONS QUICKLY AND EFFECTIVELY
- Working backwards from outcomes: If an agency wants to keep up with the digital transformation, it needs to think about outcomes, rather than individual features of the technology itself. If you create a tender for a horseless carriage, you will certainly get a horseless carriage. If instead, you want a faster way for people to get from point A to point B, make that outcome the focus of your tender. In addition, you should partner with vendors that are committed to continually improving these outcomes.
- Being iterative and agile: Agile development takes an iterative approach to technology development. Every couple of weeks, project teams check in to re-evaluate what the most important factors are to help an agency achieve the desired outcome. If a course change is needed, this is easily made, enabling systems to be updated on an ongoing basis rather than once a year or even longer.
- Deploying flexible solutions: Historically, law enforcement agencies have gone several years between major system upgrades. This process is massively disruptive to end-users who must go through significant training on substantially different software packages. The private sector has widely adopted cloud-based solutions. In the software-as-a-service model, incremental updates are available on a frequent basis. The approach I’m recommending is similar to what we see in consumer businesses. I don’t go to a two-day training every time Apple updates my iPhone. Instead, the software highlights what's new, and I quickly start using the new features.
/ THE FUTURE IS AGILE
If we want our police agencies to fulfil their missions and keep our communities safe, it’s critical that they approach technology in an interactive and agile fashion that prevents them from perpetually falling behind.
HOW AXON INNOVATES TO EQUIP THE POLICE WITH TOOLS FOR THE DIGITAL AGE
At Axon we listen to our customers and innovate on their behalf. This has led us to develop into an unapologetically cloud-oriented technology provider, continually pushing the boundaries of how we put technology in the service of public safety.
We have been pioneers in this space for 25 years, so we are familiar with the technology adoption curve, which has shown that, at the beginning, most people will misunderstand you and we’re ok with that.
When we first pioneered TASER devices 25 years ago, a lot of people said ‘I don’t get it’. Today, we have the AB3 bodycam with capabilities like live-streaming and always on connectivity, again, some agencies don’t know what to make of it.
It’s the same with report writing. We ask, ‘If you have body-worn cameras, couldn’t we automatically write most of that report by using AI?’ The very definition of innovation is doing things that have never been done before.
Our innovations are based on working closely with our customers to achieve their outcomes, such as increasing officer efficiencies and reducing stress. To do so, we release enhancements to our software every month.
One of the major projects we’ve been working on is merging two police systems that have traditionally always been separate – records and evidence. For example, in a case in Axon Records, you can press a button that allows police officers to instantly send an SMS with a link that could be used to upload evidence. So if there was a burglary at a hotel, for example, historically, a detective would have had to drive there, burn CCTV footage onto a DVD and then upload and process it. Now all of this is done with a single click.
This is a prime example of software being able to break down historical and outdated barriers to create efficiencies and equip the police forces with tools fit for the digital age.