Fighting crime with mobile technology

As criminals use technology in ever more sophisticated ways and crime-fighting resources are increasingly stretched, police forces and their frontline officers are turning to modern technology to provide a solution. Our survey conducted by Circle Research based on an in-depth interview with the Metropolitan Police’s Superintendent Adrian Hutchinson, has shown that intelligent use of IT has the potential to completely change frontline policing. It really is bringing the ‘bobby on the beat’ into the digital age.

Less red tape and more policing

Today’s technology can help reduce the bureaucracy that often holds police forces back. It can reduce paperwork, whilst capturning the important information, it’s a win-win scenario. Plus with mobile technologies, tasks like witness statements can be completed while officers are out on the streets, meaning they can spend more time on beat and less time at the station completing paperwork.

For an ‘on the beat’ perspective, we spoke with Superintendent Adrian Hutchinson, Police Lead for Mobile Technology, Metropolitan Police. In his experience of implementing new technologies Superintendent Hutchinson says he is “…seeing opportunities to reduce the requirements on back-end support functions such as data entry, supporting the necessity to reduce the police estate.” Whilst it is currently a little too early to be able to provide hard numbers regarding extra time that officers are able to spend on patrol as a result, he said “it logically follows that as we increase levels of mobility, officers will be able to work far more in the community”.

Alongside the Met Police, Hampshire Constabulary has also joined the fight against paperwork. It’s implementing a new system for digital witness statements. Officers can now take witness statements on a mobile app at the scene of the crime. They can input, review, edit and get the witness to sign the statement using an electronic pen. The statement is then automatically sent to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) providing a seamless link between policing and prosecution. As there’s no need to go back to the station to manually complete paperwork, Hampshire constabulary is saving a considerable amount of hours.

Putting information at officer’s fingertips

We expect a lot from frontline officers. For them to be able to do their jobs, it’s vital that they have the information they need close at hand, wherever and whenever they need it. Things like instant crime scene information, known offender locations and stolen vehicle details can mean the difference between the public being in danger or sleeping safely at night.

“Using modern technology means that we can provide a better service. It allows us to ensure that our officers are in the right place, with the right information and can therefore make better decisions. In many ways it’s the equivalent of providing 30 years of police experience to a student officer”, says the Met’s Superintendent Hutchinson.

For Northamptonshire Police Force the simple addition of Blackberries integrated with several computer systems has had a positive impact. As well as being able to use standard features such as the camera to convey information from the severity of fires at industrial estates to the layout of incident scenes – specially designed functionality allows access to critical information, including duty sheets, policy forms and witness statements.

This has not only freed up officer time, it’s helped reduce fuel consumption by avoiding the need to travel back to the office. The force are hoping to introduce new mobile fingerprint readers and integration with live and archived closed-circuit television footage.

Uniting police and citizens, while keeping the best talent

The blueprint for providing excellent public services is all about ensuring interactions are quick, easy and effective. So in a world where we expect to be able to do everything from buying groceries to applying for jobs at the tap of a touchscreen, a failure to offer the same sort of convenience when dealing with the police can quickly lead to negativity and a break down in the relationship.

Also, if officers aren’t provided with the equipment they need to perform tasks as quickly, easily and professionally as they would like – or even expect – they have lower self-esteem and job satisfaction. As Superintendent Hutchinson says “New officers have an expectation of a police service that uses modern technology… A lot of our frontline officers are ‘Generation Y’. These officers have grown up at home with modern, mobile technology; yet at work they rely on manual form filling at a fixed desk location. In a recent pilot study we found that issuing personal technology products to officers was very well received”. So basically, to attract and keep these people, you need to provide them with the tools they need to do their jobs well.

How should forces take their first technology steps?

Officer mobility is definitely the future of frontline services, but how you go about achieving it is important. There are five areas that have to be a priority:

– Frontline officers must have access to highly functional devices
– There must be real-time synchronisation of information
– Focus more on getting the right technology
– How to implement technology
– Long-term sustainable strategies

This is in line with the National Policing Vision, which states that by 2016, “every police officer will carry a hand-held device that will provide him or her with up-to-date and reliable information about his or her locality, the presence of offenders, repeat victims, addresses and vehicles”[1].

However, according to the HMIC 2014 report into policing, despite a series of investments in technology over the years, there is still a major gulf between the technologies that are being used by forces and the technologies that should be used by forces.

“The forces require mobile technologies that allow the officer to engage with victims in one professional visit, providing a high quality service. This may include the need to gain access to multiple systems. If we use technology in a smarter fashion we will ensure that we develop an increasingly professional response to different types of crime”, says Superintendent Hutchinson.

In summary, conversations amongst police forces across the country have to be less about using more technology, and focus more on which technology solutions can provide the most benefit and how to implement them. This is not a small change or something that can be achieved with a standard ‘bolt-on’. You need to be thinking about long-term sustainable strategies, planning for the officer’s needs five, even ten years from now. And, critically, new technologies must be introduced around the specific needs of the officers.

Superintendent Hutchinson concludes with a warning that, “Without highly functional mobile devices, both crime fighting and cost saving opportunities will be lost” – but also adds a note of optimism about the men and women who work the beat every day: “We have a highly skilled and digitally-literate workforce – we just need to give them the right tools”.

[1] The National Policing Vision 2016