The art of the policing possible – Technology


I thought I would write this blog after watching the discussions of the past few months. Not without good reason, the stories surrounding and involving policing have been quite negative, with particular focus on police officer assaults, dwindling numbers and the always inevitable drop in service quality. The magic formula of:

More cuts = greater innovation

Seems to be reaching its conclusion, as the dropping numbers of frontline officers and their support meet a perfect storm of changing demand without a full quotient of necessary organisational development. This manifests itself on the frontline in such a negative way. Officers are deployed to deal with cases that they have not been trained in, supported by often difficult to use ICT, against a backdrop of high workload. Is it any wonder that officers are feeling the pressure?

Sending a frontline officer to a digitally enabled fraud, an intelligence report of possible human trafficking, or to a high risk missing person suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s without appropriate personal and professional development will inevitably lead to problems down the road. This situation is firmly set against a backdrop of austerity, where forces have been forced to cut deeply and quickly, often having to resort to support services like learning and development to meet the govt’s ambitious funding reductions.

There are only so many things that innovation can solve. There must be enough people to meet demand, in order for real change to be planned, organised, developed, tested and implemented in the background. Otherwise you end up in a complex game of exchange between Peter and Paul, where the frontline are more stretched through secondments onto important projects that ultimately often fail to land for any number of reasons. Where is the capacity for the frontline to reflect on their practice meaningfully? Where is their protected personal and professional development time? Where is the organisational support to provide development that meets the pace that our current changes in demand dictate? Bashing the cops for not being good at dealing with a particular type of job, whilst at the same time robbing them of any meaningful capacity to meet that new job type is morally bereft – or could that be just good politics..?

Having said all this, innovation is something that the police (and all public services) should have been doing anyway. It shouldn’t take swingeing cuts to jumpstart change into action. It should be something that we do as part of daily work. The Leadership Review found that in places, the police were decades behind other sectors in the way that they support and develop people. That hasn’t happened because of austerity, and we would do well to remember the reasons behind that. With this in mind, I thought I would write a blog that looks ahead. What is coming? What may land? What changes are taking place that aren’t often talked about? What could they mean for policing? What is the art of the policing possible?

This blog will focus on technology, but I will write others in this series. Capturing a policing future in a few hundred words is challenging so please give me some leeway 😉


Digital Investigation

digi invest

Technology is the beast that will continue to both giveth and taketh away. As with all public institutions, policing will continue to run behind the pace of technology. Without dwelling on a plethora of reasons, I will focus upon one. We are not good at skirting around current rules and regulation to work in the murky grey area of technological development. We are wary of the spaces that exists between what we really know is happening now, and where the next now is being tested by international hackers in bedrooms around the world. We are a reactive service, and like I was told by one now retired Chief Constable, ‘I didn’t even turn that stone over. What was underneath looked horrific and we are struggling to meet current demand. Why would I make our lives so much more difficult?’ We are never ahead of the risks in this area – maybe we should accept that and focus on developing the best form of reactive service that we can?

This means that the beginnings of the Crystallise program that is seeking to evaluate the digital capability of our police forces will return to govt. with the inevitable evidence that we struggle to meet even the most basic of digital needs. This will create funding for a professional and far more focused approach to defining the ‘space’ that policing sits in. What is it that the police do in the digital space? Are we investigators? Do we digitally patrol? What does a real ‘digicop’ look like? How do we fully access digital information held by multi national organisations?

These questions will require global agreements on data accessibility, higher taxes/levies/restrictions on technology companies that don’t comply, and ultimately the banning of some companies that refuse to engage in some level of regulation. It may take time, but a build up of evidence that points towards unregulated social media being the origin of political espionage may provide a much needed lever for politicians to act. We are seeing the start of this change now, but as more evidence emerges, the new national regulation will become international regulation. We will have to consider what constitutes freedom of speech as an international concept, rather than a national one.

What will this mean for the cop on the street? Digital investigation won’t be digital investigation, it will just be investigation. Separating out digital investigation as something wholly divided from ‘normal policing’ will become more impossible by the day. Expect baseline digital literacy for frontline officers, continuing professional development plans that incorporate elements of digital awareness, and better tools for accessing open and closed source media. Expect huge legislative change on accessibility to data, growth in voice activated data collection and investigation, and the ‘digital timeline’ as a cemented and required element of any CPS case. As our devices ‘handshake’ with the Internet of Things, expect digital records to become maps of our lives, movement and interactions. The collection of physical evidence in the form of ‘clues’ will pay second fiddle to the red line traced by Google Maps or Strava of a person’s whereabouts.

At first attendance, there will be no statements. Initial accounts will all be gathered via bodycam, and as suspects are booked in at custody the cam is docked, downloading all available evidence at point of arrest. The files attach to the custody record, accessible to anyone who needs it with the right permissions. No more handovers, real evidence provided in real time, to courts and barristers who have long lamented the skewing of evidence through policing’s eyes. This would give new meaning to the objective observer and collector of evidence, police would literally become the eyes and ears of the justice system.

Now, criminals are resourceful. What will the counter measures employed look like? People may deploy decoy devices to setup contradictory digital signatures. Imagine giving your phone to a friend whilst you go to commit a burglary, and then relying on its handshakes to prove your innocence? On a stop search, the lack of anything internet related may give rise to suspicion, as offenders go ‘dark’ to commit crime. There is also the possible rise of dual identities on digital devices, with real life and dark personas accessed at the push of an app’s button. Imagine the creation of witness testimony upon arrival at an incident, all recorded at first port of call and then verified through concocted digital signatures – scary stuff.

Mr Johnson, it appears your device became dark between 19.00 and 19.20. Can you tell us what you did in those twenty minutes, because your phone stopped talking to the lights and the fridge?

This development will of course require us to become far more savvy. I need to know my IP addresses from my TWIF’s if I’m ever going to present a digital case, or as said before, just a case.





Courtesy of

Cryptocurrencies will continue to rise in use and value, and as the cutting edge industry leaders vie for mainstream access and use (think Bitcoin), we will see a migration to emerging technological currencies for crime. This means that tracking currencies will become ever more complicated, with a mobile phone read changing from ‘text message content’ though to looking at the content of currency wallets in the cloud. This makes proceeds of crime a total mire, with no ‘real’ cash to chase, transaction ledgers that are inaccessible, and blockchain evidence strewn across hundreds/thousands of computers across the globe. Any attempt to address this without serious investment and international cooperation will be fraught with difficulty. It requires expertise, and that, requires money.

How does this look for Dickson of Dock Green? Well, they will probably need some sort of reader that allows digital dumps to take place of mobile devices in real time. Plug it in and go – a ghost replica of the device – accessible in the future, through legislation that we haven’t passed yet, that seeks to recover and freeze assets that right now we can’t even find… With copies of this data, experts back at the station search and sift using powers that we haven’t defined yet. Seizing this needs to be as easy as taking cash from someone’s current account.

There’s a challenge right there. I always hear: “Are the police best placed to deal with this?” I think this is a misnomer, if ‘everyday criminals’ are now accessing this technology, then we need ‘everyday police’ to be able to exploit and use it. The challenge is considerable.



gun drone

Courtesy of

I personally believe that the use of airspace is a huge threat and an opportunity. Already the military are designing infantry drones that essentially deploy machine guns at ground level, and this is on top of existing technology that can send missiles through windows. Today’s military tech, is tomorrow’s criminal technology, so expect the use of drones in terrorism. This will mean that suicide bombers won’t actually have to commit suicide, and can send their bombs in through unregulated airspace remotely. They will also be able to deploy drones into multiple spaces at once, and easily target follow up emergency services. Our ability to stop these drones is limited, and unfortunately this may mean that we have to see them before any real investment goes into their prevention.

Drones won’t always be used for terrorism. As they filter down to other criminal fraternities they could be used for voyeurism, hostile reconnaissance, as lookouts (think sending them up on street corners whilst you rob a bank – all the while the pictures are relayed to your watch). They could also be used for acquisitive crime, giving rise to fresh warnings about leaving your windows open. When drones are able to fly in through windows and pick up jewellery and electrical items like phones, and still flying out in a way that allows the operator to retain control, then burglary will change forever. Is a drone a part of a person? That’s a legislative conundrum coming to your door, because if it isn’t, it’s theft only (Osprey examiners will be salivating!).

What will this mean for the cop on the street? That car with it’s roof open and someone sat operating multiple devices needs searching, and you will have to think really hard about what is evidence for the purposes of seizure. What do you do when you see a drone flying over back gardens? Does that provide suspicion for a PACE1 search of anyone operating a mobile phone?

All these threats discussed, drones provide such opportunity for the police and other emergency services. They are already in operation for large area searches, and some can employ night vision and infrared. High visibility drones could serve on point duty for several points, with automated warning systems that notify a single officer nearby of infraction. Drones could be set to ‘follow’ if there is concern over immediate safety, and could also be first deployment for real time, on scene video. Think of the possibility for evidence capture… It would also reduce huge waste in deployment, as those reports of a ‘huge fight’ turn out to be handbags at dawn via the deployed drone (that runs from the comms room on GPS coordinates).

Taking this one step further, personal issue could lead to major advances. Road traffic attend an incident and immediately deploy their personal drone to survey the incident, identify hazards and provide real time video of positions, tire marks, and damage. It also captures related number plates of those stopped who may have witnessed the incident. First on scene to a public disorder deploys their drone as they get out of the car. Algorithms identify aggressive face expressions and capture photographs for facial recognition whilst the officers attends to immediate casualties. The photos are deployed through software back at the station to locate those who got away before providing details. And they may, just may, lead to the end of the foot chase or car pursuit. An offender takes upon his heel, at which point the drone is deployed to follow at height. Officers direct resources in to a box at distance, and close in when the pursuit comes to a close.

This stuff is operationally worth its weight in gold.


Now this blog has only covered a few of the areas of technology that should be given some air. There are far more, including wearables, sub-dermals, autonomous vehicles, gene technology and larger phenomena such as technology enabled norm disruption (what we are seeing from foreign states interfering with democratic systems). All of these pose threats and opportunities to our police forces, who are currently operating in a horrifically tricky environment. Returning to a line I deployed at the start of this blog:

Bashing the cops for not being good at dealing with a particular type of job, whilst at the same time robbing them of any meaningful capacity to meet that new job type is morally bereft – or could that be just good politics..?

What can policing do? It can deploy the resources it has, to try and meet the need it currently faces, whilst doing its best to plan against a backdrop of rapidly changing demand. Skimming and providing an innovation fund does not innovation make – especially when that fund is removed from core funding in the first place? If we are too busy chasing our tails to tackle the bigger changes needed to our service, then the problems are being stored up ready for the next scandal. Innovation isn’t a forced luxury, it’s necessary, and it needs real money. When all is said and done, if you want a forward facing service, you have to pay for it.


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