Next-generation mobile technology for more effective policing
The use of mobile technology in a policing context is not new. From the first officer radios to the current mobile data terminals and fingerprint devices, police services continue to explore how technology can make them safer and more effective. The future of mobile technology in policing is not about giving the already-mobile officers access to information in the same format that they could obtain it in the station—such as being read the result of system search conducted in the station over the radio—it is about empowering police officers by enabling real-time, two-way access to information of better quality and in multiple formats (for example, photo, voice, text, and video). The innovative use of mobile technology empowers officers, increases their security, engages citizens, optimizes ways of working, and enables analytical outputs to be delivered directly to the officer. This improves the service offered and provides new ways of collaboration – all of which ensure the police service has the capability to provide a holistic “joined-up” service to the public now and into the future.5 This point of view outlines the vision for the next generation of mobile technology in policing and is based on the findings of interviews conducted by Accenture with police services around the world, and draws on our experience of delivering mobile technology to many other industries globally. Our key findings are as follows: THERE’S NO SHORTAGE OF AMBITION Officers and police leaders see the value in using and embracing mobile technology for policing. Mobile technology projects, initiatives and strategies already exist within many police services and there is a visible desire to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of officers through use of this technology; the challenge is in how best to do it. OFFICERS AND INNOVATORS ARE KEY Success relies on the partnership of technology innovators and the practical reality of the officers on the ground. • Innovating to do things differently: Police services need to push boundaries with pioneering ideas while being practical and focused at the same time, providing desired policing capabilities through devices that are intuitive to use and robust enough for the job. • The “art of the possible”: Police services cannot expect to realize the total value of change from implementing technology alone. Along with pioneering technology initiatives, the police need to fundamentally change their business processes and be prepared to “think differently” to realize the desired benefits of using mobile technology. IT’S TIME TO BE BRAVE Police services are faced with significant challenges when pursuing ambitious technology strategies including: data security risks, budgetary constraints, technical limitations, specific hardware needs and a number of commercial restrictions. Police services have recognized that now is the time to be brave; to achieve the step-change in performance they must move on from existing technology and ways of working, and be prepared to confront these challenges.
All of the police services interviewed by Accenture have been embracing varying forms of mobile technology for years; from police radios and mobile devices for issuing traffic tickets to fingerprint identification devices, automated number plate recognition technology and mobile data terminals with access to secure information systems. The majority of police officers now own and use smartphones in their personal lives (for photography, banking, train timetables, news, social media and so on) and therefore expect the same level of technology and access to information when at work. For example, a police inspector from London’s Metropolitan Police Service commented that, when completing a specific police operation, he was able to verify that all the actions required by a specific protocol had been conducted by searching for the legislation on the Internet through a personal smartphone while at the scene. He commented: “I should be able to do that through a police-issued device; it’s publicly available information and it’s so easy to do. If I hadn’t used my phone, I would have had to return to the station.” “It’s a game of cops and robbers, but the robbers have all the latest technology.” A UK Police Officer Officers also expressed that they were often at a disadvantage when compared with the criminal fraternity with respect to access and use of technology, such as the use of secure messaging services to communicate and coordinate criminal activities, general disorder and to mobilize groups against the police, as seen during the London riots of 2011.10 In the commercial world, mobile technology has been proven to improve speed, quality and access to information. Businesses and citizens are using mobile technology to save money and many businesses issue employees with laptops or other mobile devices to enable “remote working” from home, client locations or on the move, increasing productivity and reducing demand on office space. Mobile technology can also help to improve customer satisfaction; citizens can now use their phones to order shopping, browse catalogues and book restaurants at their convenience. An Accenture survey illustrated how police services worldwide have a unique opportunity to engage with citizens using digital channels, with 71 percent of citizens saying that the use of digital channels would fill the communications gap between the police and the public.11 Most of these digital channels are also now mobile channels. Police services globally must recognize these advances in mobile technology and seize the opportunities they bring to increase officer effectiveness and security, improve citizen satisfaction and drive down costs.
As bold as this statement seems, this desire fits with a vision for the future of mobile technology within policing and is neither unrealistic nor unreasonable. Mobile technology has the potential to alter the way police officers and staff work by changing the way that they are able to access and use information. The next generation of mobile technology in policing must deliver new capabilities and ways of working to police officers, enabling them to deliver improved outcomes to the public they serve. Mobile technology also delivers benefits for the citizen. In a pulse survey conducted by Accenture, 88 percent of the public believe they have an important role to play in preventing crime. The potential for mobile technology to simplify interaction and to improve the experience of citizens, victims and witnesses is widely recognized as a key benefit; a view confirmed by an officer from Guardia Civil in Spain who commented that “mobile technology can help us offer a more personal experience to the public.” Consequently, the “art of the possible” vision for mobile technology in policing must also enable the public to use mobile technology to communicate with the police through “police apps”—allowing them to report crimes, to submit evidence, record lost property, create victim or witness statements or simply allow the public to chat to, “follow” and hear from their local policing team real time. “