In Policing Vision 2025, threat, harm and risk regularly feature alongside ‘location’ and ‘place’. The value of location data is also well recognised by the Government. Having created the Geospatial Commission, charged with creating a geospatial strategy, it understands that geospatial technology can transform services across the public sector. But is this vision understood across UK policing?
Who in your organisation leads on exploiting the power of geography across the enterprise? Do they believe that exploiting geography is merely about digital maps? Today, location data is being used to deliver new insights through all areas of business and policing should not be an exception.
Advances in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have made it unrecognisable compared to a few years ago and this rapid pace of innovation continues. The multiplier effect of Esri investing more than $300 million in our technology each year, means that mapping and analytics are now integrated, revealing deeper insights across business data in ways most people never thought possible.
So, having worked with some truly gifted officers, across all ranks, it nevertheless seems to me that while policing has always professed to understand the value of location, it has rarely realised its full potential. Only a handful of forward-thinking forces have grasped this opportunity to date. For example, not many we speak to can quickly identify where their most vulnerable communities are, show how much recorded crime there was or display where policing services were delivered. The answers might be accessible but could take hours to find. With today’s GIS it takes seconds, as it is all on the same intelligent map-based dashboard. This is just one instance where this capability can transform the insights available.
Where pockets of innovation are beginning to emerge across the UK, your peers are realising the benefits. From visualising harm index data, creating dynamic digital briefing books to delivering public-facing maps and mobile intelligence apps for officers, many are starting to make strides in the right direction. And this is just the start of what’s possible. GIS will soon give senior officers a level of intelligence previously unheard of, to help support resource management and meet demand more effectively.
Interactive, dynamic briefing e-books for major events are replacing traditional, time intensive hard copy documents. Delivering these to mobile devices removes the need for manual updates and makes the information more immediate and accessible. Drones can also be used to create 3D visualisations of an event location, dramatically improving the understanding of an operational environment. Easily shareable, these 3D maps bring new insight to real-time, situational awareness.
Some progressive forces are also using online maps to show the public how much policing has been delivered in their neighbourhood, compared to the number of recorded crimes. This transparency not only supports their aim to alter the public’s perception of crime and reduce fear of crime but also shows their communities the great work they are doing.
Likewise, mobile GIS on handheld devices and smartphones can help officers engage with the public. Field-based briefing apps can tell officers quickly and easily of any previous incidents or 999 calls received from an address, before they knock on the door as they are walking down the street.
In terms of multi-agency data sharing, GIS is also playing a vital role in some of the country’s early programmes in this area. Esri UK is sharing its expertise on how location can be used to join up disparate data from multiple sources, to help reform service delivery. By pulling together data from local authorities, health and emergency services, these pilot projects are demonstrating how single data platforms are far more valuable than their individual parts – the outcome being reduced resource costs when tackling common problems across different agencies.
When the majority of IT spend is allocated towards ‘keeping the lights on’ it is unsurprising that most police services haven’t changed their outlook from digital mapping towards location analytics (nor the ancient contracts GIS was purchased under) for many years – forces are finding it difficult to change their approach.
But the purpose of this article is to issue a call to action to UK policing – let us help you re-think how you apply geospatial technology and realise the full benefits of location. Getting the right information into the hands of officers, on any device, to make informed decisions is not just for ‘Policing 2025’, it is for policing now.