Society is changing fast. The rate of technological development means people are preparing for unknown unknowns. In 2027, people could be interacting with the internet more through vocal recognition than QWERTY keyboards. The economy is undergoing a fourth industrial revolution driven by digitisation and new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented and Virtual Reality and the Internet of Things (IOT). The police force, and other public services, will need to be able to adapt to seismic shifts these changes might bring society.
Technology has changed and will continue to change the landscape of crime radically. Online there is a new frontline with crimes such as online fraud, online abuse, and internet-enabled child abuse on the rise. In 2016 the Office for National Statistics found the inclusion of cybercrime doubled the UK crime rate. The Internet of Things also poses new threats, such as driverless cars and traffic lights being vulnerable to hackers.
Reform’s recent research has shown how technology and better uses of data can be deployed on the frontline to improve efficiency and join up blue light services. It has also looked at the way the workforce can be reformed to be more adaptive to the changing demands of the digital age.
The near 200,000 officers and staff the police employ remain its largest asset and must be ready for these changes. They should do so not only to cater to changing demands, but also to be able to adopt new digital tools capable of improving policing. Some technologies raise ethical questions in need of answers. For instance, AI could be used to ascertain whether a suspect should be kept in custody so ensuring bias does not play a part in automated decision-making is crucial.
Ascertaining how much investment is needed for technology and smarter working will form part of the discussion in the Treasury’s spending review next year. In 2017, Reform argued a new digital capital grant worth £450 million per annuum would be needed if the force was to see the benefits of contemporary technology, with funding coming from savings from Whitehall’s accelerated automation agenda. As government leaders prepare for the 2019 Spending Review, understanding the future demands of the police force and how it can be equipped to meet them is key.
The policing mandate has changed little since Robert Peel’s Principles of Law Enforcement in 1829: “The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.” What has changed, and will always be changing, is the social, economic and political landscape of society and how crime is done within it.
Rose Lasko-Skinner, Researcher, Reform