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June 27, 2016
Tech on the beat: Digital cops
By: Allan W Fairley

UK police forces are increasingly looking to technology to help deliver efficiencies and service improvements. Digital Police is 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. The series looks at the obstacles, benefits and solutions; and what it all means for you and me.

Crime is changing; the days of walking into a bank with a stocking over your head and a sawn-off shotgun are much less frequent. Today’s villains are much more likely to want to go ‘phishing’ for your bank details, or bully your children whilst playing Call of Duty.

At the same time, the overall number of criminal offenses has been steadily declining since the 1980s. This is good news, but perhaps just as well, since the police have rarely been under as much pressure to cut costs.

West Midlands Police is a large UK force tackling these issues head-on. The changing role of the police has become entwined with the kind of service the public demand; a recent Accenture study noted that the majority of the public – already familiar with shopping and communicating online – are quite happy to communicate with the police online too.

“We were getting to the stage where we couldn’t get any more out of our existing business model, so we needed to fundamentally rethink how we operated.”

Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Dave Thompson.

Accenture will help WMP to meet this challenge, by partnering with them to develop an operating model to meet the force’s objectives for 2020, by which time the force aims to be saving £52m per year. Accenture will help to deliver on the plan, and its fees are tied to achieving the targets against which WMP are held to account. It is perhaps one of the best and clearest examples of outcome-based commissioning in the public sector.

Managing Demand

  • 76% of citizens want more online engagement with the police.

  • More can be done; nearly half of non-emergency calls to West Midlands Police concern existing cases.

Improving Productivity

West Midlands Police are replacing the their public-facing website with a new, easier to navigate portal with better support for mobility, and a range of interactive services to provide citizens with a new digital channel for their interactions with the Police. These include online crime reporting, online statement generation and crime tracking.

As well as improving public satisfaction, these less resource-intensive channels are estimated to save the force £1.4 million – £1.7 million annually by 2019-20.

Accenture and WMP are also in the final phase of piloting, an operational app that gives officers a map when a job emerges, the relevant intelligence and the ability to update incident and crime systems remotely – reducing the need for Response officers to return to the Station. The app has already reduced police time spent in transit and proved hugely popular with police officers.

Preventing crime

By managing demand and using police time more effectively, greater resource can be directed towards preventing crime. Success could fundamentally change the force’s existing approach to the way they manage and use information. At the moment, police analysts search for information on a particular target reactively. In the future, the risks will be identified in advance and then acted upon, creating a more proactive and preventative approach.

Preventative policing initiatives have already been used to good effect elsewhere. The Metropolitan Police has piloted a predictive analytics tool that merges various crime reporting and intelligence systems to identify individuals at risk of committing violent crimes. This initiative even extends to the police themselves; researchers at the University of Chicago have noted that incidents where an officer gets involved in an assault often result in the same officer being involved in another later the same day.

These insights have helped the police to develop a successful misconduct warning system. Despite examples of success, the effective use of data for preventative policing is piecemeal.

“A core bit of our business,” explains Chief Constable Thompson, “is information management – but if we are really honest, we are not very good at it.”

What might the future of policing look like?

What a modern police force will look like in the future depends very much on what politicians and the public find acceptable. A greater emphasis on pro-active policing requires resources to be shifted from the frontline to the back and ‘middle-office’ – not something that historically the public have found easy to swallow.

Technology-enabled policing promises to reduce crime, support wellbeing and cut costs. But for reform to deliver lasting change it’s not really about the technology at all – it’s about how the police can engage and work with the public.

This is the real lesson of West Midlands Police’s journey – that a plan based on the needs of citizens can also deliver savings for the taxpayer.

Learn more about the future of public services and digital policing

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