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Are police maximizing technology to fight crime and engage citizens?

Accenture survey finds strong citizen belief that digital channels can bridge the communication gap between police and public.

Overview

The majority (88 percent) of citizens want to help prevent and fight crime, according to Accenture research. However, 84 percent of citizens surveyed feel only minimally informed of local police activities. According to the survey, citizens say that police continue to rely heavily on traditional media channels including newspapers (69 percent) and radio or television news reports (45 percent) as their primary method of communicating with citizens.

Citizens have made it clear that they want to support police in fighting and preventing crime, but that they need more information from police to do so. So what can police do to engage better with citizens and close the communication gap? Digital tools should play an important role in communicating with citizens who want to support police to fight crime, but do not feel adequately informed of police activities. By adopting new digital technologies, police can create new communication channels to engage citizens and gather leads to support their investigations.

Background

According to Accenture research, citizens want to help prevent and fight crime, but they also want greater access to information. Accenture’s survey of citizens in six countries found that 88 percent of citizens surveyed believe they are important participants in crimefighting, specifically citing that reporting crimes is a key role for citizens in police services.

However, the majority (84 percent) of citizens surveyed feel only minimally informed of local police activities. The survey findings identified a communication gap between citizens and police. However, the research also found a strong citizen belief that digital channels, particularly social media, can bridge the communication gap and increase citizen involvement in local policing efforts. Three quarters of all respondents said they would like to see police forces using more digital channels to communicate with citizens, yet only 20 percent of respondents said their police forces are currently using digital channels to communicate.

These findings are a result of Accenture’s June 2012 survey of nearly 1,300 citizens in Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Analysis

Citizens surveyed believe that digital channels can assist in these ways:

  • 72 percent of respondents believe social media can aid in investigating crimes and prosecuting offenders.
  • 53 percent of respondents believe that social media usage by police can improve overall police services.
  • 47 percent of respondents believe social media can be used to prevent crime.

Digital channels offer other benefits for police forces, including:

  • Lower cost. Amid today’s funding pressures, digital offers a low-cost channel for communications.
  • Efficient. By leveraging digital tools, police forces may free up more officers to be visible on the streets fighting crime.
  • Speed to citizen. Digital tools offer an 
  • efficient way to disseminate bulletins, alerts and information in the wake of public safety events.

  • Instill confidence. Digital channels offer a way for police to keep an open dialogue and share information abundantly so that citizens feel connected and informed. This enhanced confidence may help assuage citizens’ concerns about anonymity.

  • Modern medium. Digital tools are a way to reach the tech-savvy younger generation that may ignore traditional media channels, and want information delivered and shared across mobile platforms.

  • Making connections. Digital tools enable police to communicate with often difficult to reach groups, such as anarchists or underground groups. Police might also virtually link citizens—even criminals—with support groups so that they feel part of larger community, and also feel safer about coming forward with information.

Recommendations

By adopting new digital technologies, police can create new communication channels to engage citizens and gather leads to support their investigations. Accenture policing experts suggest a focus on four primary areas:

  • Improve information/data management—An enterprise-wide view of information, which includes data integrated from partner agencies, not only prevents isolated islands of information, but also better equips law enforcement personnel to fight today’s sophisticated crime, rather than fighting the system.
  • Analytics—By managing and analyzing the digital information they receive from citizens, police forces can create valuable intelligence to prevent and solve crimes faster, support investigations and secure prosecutions. They can also reduce costs at a time of budget reductions.
  • Mobile tools—Mobile tools enable police offers to do their jobs with the right information, at the right place, at the right time. Such freedom liberates officers to access vital information in the field.
  • Citizen portals—According to the recent Accenture Digital Citizen Pulse Survey, 70 percent of citizens surveyed said they were likely to use a website or portal. Such citizen portals can provide a means for two-way communication between citizens and police, reducing cost, improving citizen engagement and public safety.