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June 24, 2016
Digital solutions to help build trust between citizens and police
By: Allan W Fairley

One need only follow the news headlines to know that the trust citizens feel toward their local police force has declined in recent years. In the UK, those who trust senior police officers “a great deal” or “a fair amount” has fallen from 72 percent in 2003 to just 54 percent today. This is a problem for everyone. A lack of public trust can undermine police work and affect citizens’ feelings of safety. A decline in trust even has impacts on the judicial system and government effectiveness.

Our era of 24/7 news cycles and constant social media activity amplifies public sentiment. Law enforcement officials can publish stories about reduced crime rates or innovations in police work, but those are hardly a match for citizens’ instant YouTube videos, Tweets and Facebook photos. If there is an issue anywhere, you can well assume it is being talked about everywhere.

To measure citizen satisfaction more effectively and improve relationships with those citizens, the police must engage the public through the use of the digital tools and channels with which people are most familiar. Police should be using these channels to understand, shape and respond to public opinion.

There are many available digital solutions to build trust. Law enforcement officials need to understand these solutions and use them to everyone’s advantage.

The right tool for the right need

Digital is not intended to totally replace face-to-face interaction, which will always be a critically important part of effective law enforcement. But here are some ideas for using digital to your advantage:

  • Promote the use of social media platforms.
    A few years ago the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) in the UK sponsored a contest to award the best-tweeting police officer in the country. Twitter and other social media platforms can be an effective way to engage with citizens of a community. Social channels can also be the best way to disseminate information quickly. In the US, following the Marathon bombing incident in 2013, the Boston Police Department’s tweets “rapidly became the most trusted source of information about the status of the investigation and were often retweeted hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of times.” (Source: “Social Media and Police Leadership: Lessons from Boston,” Police Executive Research Forum, May/June 2014.)

  • Use digital to engage the community and support a common purpose.
    A recent Accenture poll found that 96 percent of citizens expect to play a role in policing and 66 percent want more police interaction. Traditional Neighbourhood Watch groups are being supplemented with digital equivalents. For example, FaceWatch, an online crime reporting platform in the UK, enables businesses, public and police to tackle low-level crime by sharing images within secure groups and submitting digital evidence files to the police to save time and increase the likelihood of detecting the crimes. The public wants to be involved in policing. This involvement can serve the dual purpose of engaging the public and improving police outcomes.

  • Emphasise quality, not quantity.
    Social media success is less about quantity and more about the quality of engagement between citizens and the police. To proactively shape sentiment, police organizations must tailor their engagement efforts to different community segments using a variety of channels and recognise that one size does not fit all.

  • Use customer insight data and analytics.
    Thames Valley Police is using customer insight data and analysis tools to move away from generic media campaigns toward two-way, local engagement and communications. Or consider the ‘Analytics Escalator’ from Accenture; this tool represents a new approach to mapping the datasets and required analysis for any type of operation. It defines what data sources need to be absorbed, what kind of analytics can best interpret huge volumes of data and how insights will be operationalised for competitive advantage.
    Developed in partnership with a large police force, the Analytics Escalator was first tool to be used to optimise an anti-gang crime initiative. It intensified focus on the most valuable datasets—in this instance, high-risk gang members—eventually reaching a level of granular analytics which allowed the team to target those who needed the most immediate interventions.

Success: Consent, information and security

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) commented that: “We police with consent…. My job is to…secure the support of the public for the changes we need to make to transform our organization to cope with the new threats that face us.”

By better understanding the priorities and preferences of different segments of society and embracing targeted, multi-channel digital communications, police forces can more effectively build trust. This can put officers in a stronger position to be proactive and gain support from the public in the face of unprecedented change.

Check back next week to find out more about how digital is shaping the relationship between police and the citizen in our upcoming article ‘Digital Police’, part of the Accenture-sponsored ‘Future of Public Services’ series written by the Government think-tank ‘Reform’, with input from Accenture and West Midlands Police.

Read the first part of the series, Digital Justice now.

Learn more about building trust between citizens and the police in a digital world.

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