How can policing be more evident in local communities when budgets are so stretched? And are the days of the foot patrol Police Officer numbered?
HM Inspector of Constabulary in its latest assessment of British policing makes it clear that the visibility of officers will become an increasingly vexed issue as further budget cuts bite over the next five years. The Inspectorate also makes clear that technology can do a lot to tackle this challenge.
Being visible, but not seen
It may be a fact that a Police Officer on the beat is likely to come across a crime in progress on average once every eight years, and that targeted, proactive, often plain-clothes police work can be much more effective in tackling crime ranging from burglary to child abuse. Yet the public like to know that the police are operating in their communities: they point out, rightly, that a visible police presence helps deter crime and the anti-social behaviour which can blight communities.
Using technology to get the job done - faster
Technology can support faster, more effective and visible policing in two key ways. First, mobile devices such as tablets or vehicle-based terminals can eliminate the need for officers to attend a police station for tasking or to write up incident reports. Officers in some forces regularly spend up to half their ten-hour shifts in an office, typing up reports – often entering the same information into several separate databases. Better information sharing between systems will eliminate the need for double-keying of data. But imagine the benefit of being able to sit in a police car while entering those reports – providing visible reassurance to the law-abiding, and deterrence to the ill-intentioned. Such initiatives are being rolled out by some forces and have the potential to provide hundreds of extra officer-hours for patrolling.
Tell the citizen about it
Secondly, technology can be used to keep the public better informed of the good work that’s being done. While plain-clothes work may be the most effective use of police time, this can still be shared with the public. Social media, police force websites and even dedicated apps can tell the public when officers have been active in a particular area. Already many neighbourhood officers tweet what they have been up to. But there is the potential to go further providing online summaries of local police activity – numbers of patrols, stops and searches conducted, warrants executed and arrests made – to offer clear evidence of what the force is doing in a particular neighbourhood. This creates welcome transparency, and local residents who haven’t seen many uniformed officers, have the reassurance of being watched over.