Photo: Jeffrey Chan
Policing has probably never faced as many complex challenges as today. The main issues relate to changing public expectations in an age when there is very high virtual connection and low interpersonal contact; availability of new technologies that can greatly improve police and criminal efficiency; a rise in organised crime that is flexible and multi-jurisdictional - in a way that police generally are not - and a failure of the law and legal profession to keep up with the information revolution and faster processing expectations.
A recent study by global consultancy Accenture involving 17 international police services suggests that police need to embrace operational, cultural, technological and organisational change in a climate of declining real spending on police services. The study notes that there are three core trends that are likely to affect police. These are rising citizen expectations, the changing nature of the criminal world, and providing a cost-effective service.
To take these in turn: There are increasing public expectations about accessible crime reporting (influenced by the 24-hour news cycle), the effectiveness of emergency responses, police dealing with their public safety concerns in a timely manner, and police accountability.
We live in an age of massaged information management but police should be prepared to provide unmassaged data online on crime statistics, types of crime by local area, clear-up rates etc, and have portals that cater for most public interactions with police. Portals have the added benefit of being cost-effective.
Part of the problem with modern policing is that in the pursuit of centralisation efficiencies and vehicle-based mobility, it lost touch with the public. It is rare these days for anyone to know who their local police officer is or to have personal contact with police. However, the
internet does provide the means to have the kind of police interaction with the public that the public has with each other. In Devon, Britain, where I am at the moment, if you have a policing concern you can contact the local police team at their website (which includes their names and photos), and expect an email response within hours. Local PC Jim Tyrrell or a member of his team will normally follow up in person within 24 hours. My similar experience in Canberra with ACT Policing was a lack of feedback - or even a record of any response.
We live today in a 24/7 world with public expectations of timely responses to their concerns - whether from retailers, service providers or the public sector. A good police responsiveness model is New York's NYC 311 customer service centre, which also allows police to quickly identify new crime trends.
Accenture notes that increasingly the criminal world is organised, global, digital and operating across complex networks. Modern organised crime clearly does pay and the wealthiest players (including white collar criminals) are seldom convicted. A banker's presentation I attended last year estimated that financial institutions internationally in 2011 lost $1 billion to cybercrime.
The expectation was that the cybercriminals responsible would invest 25 per cent of the money stolen in staying ahead of the banks' security responses. Most of the cybercrime emanated from eastern Europe, but most of the money was invested in the Western nations it was stolen from. Australia has a poor record of checking for the original source of incoming money, an important step in countering cybercrime. It has also made us a preferred destination for corrupt public money, particularly from Papua New Guinea and our immediate region. We need to do something about that before we invest large sums of public money in PNG to house asylum seekers.
Despite the major complex challenges that policing faces, from my personal experience of working with police, much of a sworn officer's time is spent on the revolving door of drunks, drug-addicted repeat offenders, vehicle-offence issues and domestic disturbances. Many would say that these are predominantly community issues that should not be left solely to the police to deal with. Another complaint I hear from front-line police is the amount of time they have to spend on documentation (statements, reports, intell reporting, etc) and waiting to appear in court.
The Accenture study recommends six steps to prepare police for the future. These are: engage with citizens, empower police officers, optimise ways of working, predict and improve services through analytics, enhance collaboration with other law enforcers, and proactively manage crime.
Police engagement with the public should be online, social - as well as face-to-face (Australian police need to get out of their cars and remove their sunglasses when talking to the public), and underpinned by trust. The public can be a powerful resource, given the right approach. The Boston marathon bombing showed that the public wants to be active - but prefers to remain anonymous.
Police need to be empowered by real-time access to data that is provided in a usable and actionable way. For example, in Afghanistan, US security forces using the Biometric Automated Toolset can field-check a suspected bombmaker's biodata against a cloud-based database and get a response within six seconds. Empowerment for police can also take the form of on-the-spot fines for routine and some public order offences.
''Optimise ways of working'' means bringing in areas of the private and public sectors to work with police to deal with non-core policing issues. Optimisation can also include the use of police community support officers and part-timers - retired officers and volunteer reservists. This has the added financial benefit of reducing some of the need for costly overtime.
Analytic systems to identity likely criminal activity through CCTV and smart systems can improve police awareness and lead to more cost-effective use of resources, particularly in urban areas. For example, Singapore's Safe City system uses predictive analytics to deploy police.
Enhanced law enforcement collaboration may prove difficult in a competitive climate for resources but should include closer co-operation, not only between national and international police services but also with criminal intelligence bodies such as the Australian Crime Commission, community organisations, prisons, and the public.
The ''proactive management of change'' recommendation envisages police leaders motivating the police themselves (who tend to be cynical about their managers) and better managing public expectations - and perhaps in the ACT's case putting more public pressure on ACT politicians to sort out the obvious problems with the justice system. There needs to be a much more efficient justice system in the ACT that meets public expectations of quicker processing and sensible outcomes.
Clive Williams is an adjunct professor at Macquarie University's centre for policing, intelligence and counter terrorism , and a visiting professor at the ANU's Australian centre for military and security law.