WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE NATIONAL POLICING DIGITAL STRATEGY
The UK’s National Policing Digital Strategy (NPDS) makes one thing very clear: the UK’s police forces will need to use digital technologies to respond to profound societal changes and maximise tight budgets. Mike Ashby-Clarke, Axon’s UK Country Manager and a former Metropolitan police officer, looks at how the strategy will shape policing across four areas:
1. OPTIMISING EFFICIENCY THROUGH DIGITAL TOOLS
The strategy strongly encourages police forces to engage more fully with the opportunities that digital technologies create, especially in two areas. The first is enabling police officers to work more efficiently. The second is to provide citizens with a seamless experience when contacting the police, aiming for a smooth interaction across multiple contact channels – e.g. mobile or web. The NPDS also calls for closer collaboration across the public sector to tackle complex public safety issues.
There is a perception that public safety bodies can be slow to uptake new technology. But there are signs of change: most police forces are now moving away from on-premise technology to use cloud-based solutions that are easier to deploy and run and are more cost-efficient. This is, in part, down to the myth being dispelled that on-premise systems are more secure but it’s also in recognition of the fact that new technology, such as AI, needs the limitless power of cloud computing to deliver real efficiencies.
2. ETHICAL OPERATIONS
The need for tech ethics has come to the forefront in the last five to six years, and the NPDS has ethics high on the agenda. It is applying the same ethical approach, which is already entrenched in policing values, to digital technology. The question is, how are these safeguards implemented across 43 different forces and varying political agendas from the respective Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs)?
AI, in particular, is being used in new solutions. For example the use of AI to predict crimes, often termed predictive policing, have led to calls for more oversight and guidance.
3. WORKING WITH THE PRIVATE SECTOR
The strategy seeks to strengthen the relationships between police forces and the private sector. We have seen national technology programmes, which aim to provide systems for all forces, fail in recent years. The reason for this is that it seems almost impossible to simultaneously satisfy the requirements of 43 different organisations – each with their individual challenges and goals – even when building a platform or solution from scratch. The private sector can provide a solution, having the skills to build, iterate and configure off-the-shelf products at pace and scale. The Met’s Body-Worn Video (BWV) programme is a good example. In just 12 months 22,000 cameras and 50,000 Digital Evidence Management System (DEMS) licences were deployed and all users trained.
4. THE FUNDING MODEL AND IMPLEMENTATION
The implementation of the strategy depends on individual PCCs, who are providing police funding. And while there is some pressure to implement the recommendations, a lack of resources may make this difficult. Due to budget cuts, many police forces have a backlog of more pressing demands that take precedence: for example, equipping all firearms officers with point-of-view video cameras, which is mandatory but not all forces currently comply with this requirement. Indeed, additional funding will be needed to help forces deploy new technology and take advantage of the promise this offers to improve crime-fighting and streamline workflows to allow police teams to spend less time on clerical work and more in their communities.
The report emphasises that the private sector offers a great deal that can be used to help achieve the vision of the NPDS. The private sector can attract world-leading tech talent and afford to invest a substantial part of its profits in R&D. This just cannot be matched by public sector funding during times of contracting budgets.
Since Peel set the tone for modern policing, the UK’s police forces have been highly regarded, especially given that the relative safety enjoyed by UK citizens is achieved by unarmed officers. Looking forward, we need to embrace innovation and consider the role that innovative technology can play to help the UK’s police force remain the leading light they’re seen to be.