The first essay from American Policing in 2022 (pps. 7-10) is a great opening salvo both against and for technology.
“The Future of Policing Can Be Found in the Past” by John P. Skinner (Deputy Police Commissioner for Baltimore, MD at the time) opens with a discussion of the beat cop out on foot patrol in the early to mid 1900s – prior to the widespread adoption of the patrol car:
“Perhaps most important, the mere presence of the officer walking the beat often contributed to a sense of safety and security within the neighbourhood.”
Skinner quickly follows with a statement that is jarring:
“Unfortunately, many positive aspects of this style of policing have been lost through the modernization of society and the evolution of technology.”
He then goes on to discuss a change in the relationship that a police officer has with his or her community. The introduction of the patrol car and a focus on rapid response and a reactive approach isolated officers from their community:
“…like a rapidly moving force, separated from the community by a high-speed cage of glass and steel.”
I can’t explain how important that concept is. I am fortunate enough to work with many sworn members and many retired members. I know in their heart that they became police officers to truly serve – but too many feel disconnected. This physical separation is all too real.
I work with different forces and services and many are actively breaking down these barriers and it takes immense courage and strength throughout the organization. The leadership at all levels to resist the separation is impressive and I am really happy to see that technology, partially the culprit in creating this separation, has the clear and real potential to bring police officers back into the community.
In my work with police services all over North America and beyond, I have observed another symptom of this trend and I find it very troubling when I come across it. The symptom is the use of the term “citizen” on a constant basis to refer to the members of the community.
This term is divisive as well and though Skinner doesn’t raise it, it falls in line with the disconnect that he discusses:
“Residents no longer feel any level of attachment to the police officers working within their neighbourhood, and the gap between police officers and the people they serve is rapidly widening”.
This is a disheartening statement to say the least. The article is US-focused but the concept certainly applies to some level in Canada and in other countries.
Fortunately I am not hearing “citizen” nearly as often as I used to – perhaps my clients have grown or I have shifted to a different clientele.
An even better observation is that technology is now available that is actively helping break down the barriers and reducing the separation.
Skinner agrees, and points to technology as a change agent:
“The increased availability of technology for police agencies is exciting and has created limitless possibilities.”
The hard part is making sure that we apply technology properly – that we use it to improve policing (and not just the law enforcement aspects of policing). We need to ensure that where we are applying technology it is to improve the whole community. Some change will be police service focused, as it should be, but that service is aimed at serving the community so anything we can do to improve things will be worth the investment. Skinner and I are in agreement again:
“However, despite these possibilities, there needs to be a concerted effort to invest specifically in technology that promotes positive interaction and communication between the police and the public.”
And then the next sentence hits and drives it home for me:
“Investments in mobile handheld communication devices would encourage officers to leave the confinement of their vehicles to interact with the community, while still allowing access to important information.”
Leaving the “confinement of their vehicles” makes so much sense and I see so many areas where mobile devices enable better information to be shared, more communication flow, and that lack of a car acting as a barrier is incredibly human.
I am a huge believer that mobile is where the change will occur most – the move from an archaic (as an early RIM/BlackBerry guy it saddens me to say this) BlackBerry to more capabile smartphones, with big data backbones (e.g. 700MHz PSBN!), the opportunities are huge. The impact won’t be known for a while but we MUST be vigilant as we can easily build new barriers or leave old barriers in place.
The question I have for folks out there is where does mobile fit into your policing strategy? Not your technology strategy – your policing strategy…
This blog entry is part of an ongoing series of thoughts and comments that I have come up with while reading (and re-reading) American Policing in 2022…
Technology In OPS is all about getting technology into operations – but only where technology can make a positive difference. For more information about Technology In OPS and to get regular updates from me, please subscribe (I will never share your information – I hate spam too).