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Phillip Ridley, Senior Consultant at 1Spatial considers how data can help foster public confidence in the police as the COVID-19 lockdown eases.

In the UK, police gain their legitimacy and authority from the consent and support of the public, as reported by the National Police Chiefs' Council Chair, Martin Hewitt.

Speaking at the Government’s daily COVID-19 briefing on 11 April, he stressed that new responsibilities given as part of the national response to the virus would be ‘implemented in that tradition of British policing.’

However, he added that much remained the same with officers continuing to fight crime, protect victims and tackle anti-social behaviour in the community, and less visibly, working to trace child abusers, track terrorists, and protect against cyber-attacks, online fraud and safety.

Whilst overall crime may have fallen during the lockdown, reports indicate that increases in cyber-stalking, hate crime and domestic abuse have increased with concerns that COVID-19 related social isolation, could make some of society’s most vulnerable people more susceptible to radicalisation and other forms of grooming. Trying to continue to implement “business as usual” and carry out these new responsibilities requires a new level of confidence in decision making and resource deployment in already stretched forces. The quality of the underlying evidence and in turn therefore the quality, provenance and integrity of the data used to make those decisions is equally vital.

We don’t yet know what life will look like when lockdown is eased. We do know however, that meeting public expectations is crucial to maintaining and in some cases re-establishing trust in this most vital of public services.

Confidence is key

The National Policing Digital Strategy 2030 has been developed in response to the digital challenges facing the service, but ultimately for the benefit of the public it serves.

Data is identified in the strategy as one of seven enablers of digitalisation and an essential asset to enable digital transformation. By improving national support and guidance on data management and driving convergence to a national data architecture and model, the aim is to unlock more value from data while maintaining public trust. The strategy recognises that data will help shift from a reactive policing model to designing proactive and preventative solutions to improve public protection. This puts data and therefore the quality of data as key to the next revolution of policing in the UK.

To ensure optimal response times, commanding officers have always needed to be agile in adapting to rapidly changing circumstances and requirements. This can be achieved using a variety of dashboards, incorporating location data and business intelligence tools, but the underpinning information must be accurate. When decisions need to be made quickly and in confidence, there is no time for long manual quality assurance processes to ensure the data is valid and fit for purpose.

Automating the data management process ensures consistency for all information regardless of its source, in line with the Strategy’s recommendations for national automation, analytics, and AI capabilities to enhance data quality, facilitate data sharing across systems and extract insights to deliver better service outcomes. 1Spatial envisages the increased use of ‘data angels’ providing persistent data quality monitoring and reporting as part of an automated capability. And, as neither COVID-19 nor criminals respect boundaries, automatic integration and aggregation of standardised data in a national infrastructure will further enable effective collaboration between organisations.

Data underpins operational planning and predictive analysis and can optimise efficiency within existing budgets through evidence-based decision making. For example, using data insights to target resources in hotspots and ensuring they have both the right equipment and the right local knowledge. Not only does this give senior officers confidence their resources have been deployed effectively, it gives officers in the field confidence to carry out their duties. As well as an impact on crime rates, increased visibility of officers reassures the public, helping to strengthen relationships between communities and their police force. Efficient deployment of policing resources, will free up resources to re-build these relationships between the communities and their police forces. A positive relationship between the police and the communities is vital as society recovers from the turbulent times of lockdown.

In the data science world, ‘garbage in, garbage out’ is the most cogent takeaway. Dubbed as the next industrial revolution, 1Spatial believes in the value of placing data quality at the very heart of a digital transformation programme, as upheld by the National Policing Digital Strategy which recognises data as being the lifeblood of policing. The need to shift to higher levels of data confidence levels is a guiding principle of 1Spatial’s research and development programme, where specialising in the deployment of persistent data quality platforms using advanced rules engines is seen as a critical part of developing a post-lockdown capability.

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