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Ruth Davis is a Crime and Research Fellow with Policy Exchange

Screen shot 2013-07-19 at 18.26.16You
are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police if
you are black or from an ethnic minority background than if you are
white. If you are stopped, there is only a 9 per cent chance that you are doing
or planning to do anything that should result in your arrest. The Home
Secretary recently told Parliament that this suggests that the police are
using stop and search powers without reasonable grounds for doing so and
in a way that discriminates against people because of their ethnicity
rather than for behaving suspiciously.

It is, she says, ‘not
sustainable’ if public confidence in the police is to be maintained. She
is right.

This
is the latest in a series of recent events and claims. Hillsborough, Operation
Elveden, undercover intrigue against the Lawrence family: all are
by-words for the corrupt and closed culture that has operated in some
parts of our police service and all have damaged public confidence in
the police.


Happily,
however, this is only one side of the story. Many police forces are opening up
their world to the public, improving co-operation, trust and
communication through the use of social media and new technologies.
Hailed as a means to cut costs and improve efficiency, the power of
technology to collapse barriers and strengthen relations has often been
overlooked. Used well however, it has the potential to take Peel’s
principle that the police are the public and the public are the police
into the digital age.

The police are the public

The
public need to be confident that the police are on their side,
accountable for the way they use their powers and for how they deal with
victims of crime.

81 per cent
of police forces are already using social media to interact with the
public, helping to build understanding of the work they do and the
situations they face. This should be encouraged and expanded to actively
involve communities. Greater Manchester Police, for example, have a scheme called Citizen Reporter, where citizens accompany officers on the beat reporting on their experience.

Technology
can record events, building confidence that the police will be
proportionate in their use of such powers as stop and search, and put
a stop to rare but serious cases of alleged abuse. Collecting live
evidence with body cameras is being trialled by Hampshire, Thames Valley
and Plymouth police. They report an increase in public confidence and a
decrease in malicious complaints.

Being
open about the progress of investigations with victims of crime is key
to combating perceptions that the police ‘won’t bother’ to try and solve
minor crimes. Avon and Somerset police are trialling the use of the
‘Track my Crime’ website which officers use to update people on how
their investigation is progressing. Such an approach resolves tensions
such as not being able to get hold of officers working night shifts or
out making inquiries.

The public are the police

The
public have always been ready to help the police prevent crime and stop
criminals, but now the use of new technologies to report crime and identify
suspects has taken this to a level not previously possible.

Such incidents as the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in
Woolwich and the 2011 London riots saw the Metropolitan Police
inundated with information. To maximise this input, forces need to build
the capability to sift useful intelligence and potential eye witnesses
from the torrent of comment and queries in which they are wrapped up.
More needs to be done to integrate public social media feeds into
proactive intelligence gathering and the monitoring of police
operations. The Met built this capability in the wake of the London
riots, partnering with HP to analyse the content of tweets, blog posts
and articles to glean information on trending issues and community
influencers.

Crime
mapping, social media, and GPS can be used by Neigbourhood Policing
Teams, improving the way they work with local businesses and communities
to identify hotspots of criminal behaviour and target police patrols. In this way, the public can be confident that the police have a strong local
presence where it’s most needed: this will be key to maintaining
visibility at a time when police numbers are declining. Public input
will also build intelligence on criminal behaviour which has previously
gone unrecognised, an approach that could have highlighted the extent of
localised grooming in towns such as Oxford, where police and social
workers failed to connect disparate intelligence for far too long.

Technology
can help the police do more with less, but it can also go further than that.
If embraced and used effectively, it can do much to bridge the distance
that has built up between the police and the communities they serve,
increasing the accountability of the police to the public and giving the
public the opportunity to help keep their communities safe.

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