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How can emerging technology help police officers keep us safe?

Shannon Missen
1 Jun 2021

Exploring how emerging technology can redefine police work, providing officers with powerful tools with which to conduct their challenging and critical work: keeping the public safe.

Big tech companies spend millions on efficiency gains. Yet arguably, no industry is as time critical as the emergency services, where mere seconds can make the difference between life and death.

Police forces regularly scan the market for revolutionary technologies, which could deliver improvements to services and, ultimately, to the well-being of citizens. When looking at the tech landscape, there are three areas of innovation that could truly redefine police work, which are:

  • The Internet of things (IoT), the shared network of information between connected electronic devices, and machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence that automatically analyses data and uses it to self-improve, could work together to find critical insights.
  • Virtual Reality (VR), an immersive, computer-generated environment, could be used to simulate realistic scenarios
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP), a branch of artificial intelligence that enables computers to understand and respond to language, could be used to automate report processing and bridge language barriers.

IoT and machine learning can drive real-time criminal response

In 2021, there will be 25 billion globally connected sensors, which together provide real-time data that organisations can use to make informed decisions or predictions.

In the private sector, Uber created Michelangelo—a platform built on open-source machine learning algorithms—to analyse real-time information on driver pickup times, traffic situations and the positions of their drivers. Uber can use these insights to provide users with more accurate predictions about their journey, thus setting better expectations and improving overall customer experience.

Like Uber, policing has supply (patrol cars) and demand (police callouts). A similar system could be used to automatically identify the patrol that could get to a crime first based on proximity to the incident, live traffic situations and previous data gathered on how fast police cars travel on the route to the area of the incident under flashing blue lights.

Police forces can go one step further by also boosting its crime prevention capability. For example, machine learning could analyse data from 999 and 101 incident reports to identify crime hotspots, then automatically create patrol routes for police cars to rebuild citizen confidence with enhanced police presence.

VR can provide safe, life-like simulations of dangerous situations

Practising stressful and complex scenarios in simulations is not a new concept – pilots have been doing this for decades. The dangerous scenarios that police forces regularly encounter require officers to draw upon their training and experience to make snap decisions under extreme levels of stress.

VR can provide officers with a safe environment to refine their skills in these sorts of situations and is already being put into practice. In 2020, Derbyshire Constabulary ran a successful VR trial that gave police officers realistic training in the use of tasers. The training in VR boasted numerous advantages over traditional training methods, including greatly reduced risk, higher flexibility and repeatability, and enhanced realism.

It is also being used by the UK Armed Forces, who practise challenging scenarios that can arise on the battlefield within the safety of VR.

NLP can reduce time spent on paperwork, mine for offender insights, and remove language barriers with non-English speakers

Paperwork forms a large part of a police officer’s work. The need for records to be completed to a high, auditable standard is common across the emergency services. NLP can automate some of these tasks with a high degree of accuracy, thereby saving officers time and costs.

It is already being used to support other areas of the emergency services. For example, Amazon Comprehend Medical can extract key words from unstructured text and use it to populate electronic health records. This could be applied in a very similar context in policing.

Additionally, NLP could be used to systematically analyse criminal reports at scale, identifying patterns that could help paint a picture of an offenders modus operandi (MO) and cluster reports together, thereby painting a broader picture of offence. This could cut investigation time, which would result in more lives saved.

NLP can also enable instant machine translation between English and a wide variety of other languages, augmenting police officers’ ability to communicate with foreign language speakers, from simply interacting with tourists in need of assistance, to more complex engagements such as building a level of trust in multi-national communities.

As the tech landscape continues to evolve, and new solutions regularly become available, it is important that police forces keep a watchful eye. These technologies could redefine police work, providing officers with powerful tools with which to conduct their challenging and critical work: keeping the public safe.