The new age of smarter policing

Singapore's "Safe City" pilot programme involves companies working with the Government to integrate advanced analytic capabilities into existing video monitoring systems. This helps the authorities improve situational awareness, streamline operations and enhance response times to incidents. Today's policemen and women face unprecedented challenges. Rising citizen expectations, evolving crime types, and shrinking budgets test the capabilities of police forces around the world.

A recent survey by consulting company Accenture, which included a series of in-depth interviews with 22 senior police officers from 16 countries, found that citizen expectations are rising. These include the way crimes are reported, the effectiveness of emergency response, citizen-centric welfare, public safety and public involvement in policing.

Citizens are no longer passive recipients of information. They are actively engaging in conversations with and about the police, in person and online, to report crime or partake in neighbourhood watch programmes. They would also like the police to engage more with them, mirroring the customer-centric approach that they experience in their interactions with brands and companies. And with the digitalisation of services creating greater demands around how information is handled and managed, citizens are increasingly demanding greater levels of transparency in terms of decision-making, prioritisation and the quality of service being delivered.

Yet police forces across the globe also face manpower constraints and budget cuts. They are now pressed to deliver the same level of performance and efficiency, with limited resources.

Three key steps need to be adopted to overcome these challenges. These are: tapping the power of analytics, improving operational capabilities by taking advantage of new technology, and leveraging on social media.

Predictive analytics

ANALYTICS - which harness useful insights from disorganised data - can prove a valuable ally in combating crime. Analysis of historical trends will better inform daily operational decisions, allowing police departments to better assess, predict and prevent crime.

Singapore's new "Safe City" pilot programme is a step in this direction. This is a one-year programme where private sector companies work with the Government to integrate advanced analytic capabilities into the existing video monitoring systems used in the city. This helps city authorities improve situational awareness, streamline operations and enhance the response times to public safety incidents.

These include crowd and traffic movements, public disorder incidents or environmental threats such as flooding. Should potential incidents be identified, alerts are sent instantly to the relevant authorities, including the police.

In Santa Cruz, California, police forces have successfully applied predictive analytics to burglary data to identify the streets at greatest risk and then increase patrols in those areas. The result has been a 19 per cent drop in property theft without deploying additional officers.

Predictive analytics offers, for the first time, the ability to generate insights and results without additional manpower.

Using mobile technology

EQUIPPING existing manpower with new mobile tablet devices and smartphones is yet another way forward. The speed of response depends critically on officers having access to real-time information. Intuitive and interactive platforms facilitate ease of use and allow for information sharing between officers on the ground and the central command. Once a suspect is identified, officers can use mobile devices to verify photographic, voice, or biometric details.

A pilot programme in the United Kingdom using mobile technologies resulted in a 15-minute reduction in the time needed for taking electronic statements from witnesses. Officers were also able to transmit complete information back to the database in under one minute.

By adopting smartphones, police in Belgium reduced administrative processes per statement by 20 minutes, saving 30 man-days per year. Better yet, remote data gathering through mobile tools increases data for analytics, creating a more complete enforcement picture.

Engaging with social media

SOCIAL media should also be tapped. A total of 72 per cent of the 1,300 respondents in Accenture's citizen survey felt that social media is an effective tool in policing.

In 2012, the Surrey Police in Britain tapped into this sentiment by launching a free smartphone app, Facewatch ID. By linking users in specific geographic zones to the relevant police photo database, and guaranteeing informant confidentiality, the system helped identify more than 200 persons of interest within six months of use. Through social media, systems like these successfully mobilise the collective intelligence of the citizenry.

Beyond optimising delivery with technology, police forces also need to step up citizen engagement. One aspect is managing expectations. CSI and similar television programmes have created an unrealistic impression of technology, leading citizens to believe that all crimes can be solved effortlessly.

Police forces need to better educate and inform the public about their operations, as well as actively engage them to take part in policing. Such an approach also builds on changing attitudes among citizens, who no longer see themselves as passive recipients of policing. During the Boston Marathon bombings in April this year, constant updates on the Boston police's Twitter account calmed fears, debunked rumours, and helped police apprehend the culprit.

Adopting an integrated, partnership approach that empowers and enables front-line officers with new technologies and processes can lead to more informed and productive interactions that engage and serve citizens. This will enable smarter policing and result in better outcomes. Equally revolutionary is how digital technology can transform citizens from mere "consumers" into active participants.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

The writer is managing director, Health & Public Service Lead, Singapore, Accenture

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