NPCC chair sets out ‘ambitious vision’ for technology-led transformation of policing

Police will take a quantum leap forward with artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, drones and facial recognition as the National Police Chiefs’ Council chair set out his ambitious vision for reform.

Nov 15, 2023
By Paul Jacques
Gavin Stephens

Chief Constable Gavin Stephens says cutting-edge science and technology will transform policing – with strong neighbourhood teams at the bedrock of every force in the country.

Mr Stephens – who brings all UK chiefs together to set the direction for policing – laid out his plans for change as forces work to build back the trust and confidence of communities.

The NPCC chair, who started in post in March, explained that this will not be achieved without “real reform and new thinking,” adding that “incremental improvements” alone are not enough.

He laid out the four key areas of police reform that in his view will deliver a safer society:

  • Effectiveness in tackling criminality from the neighbourhood to the transnational;
  • Exploiting innovation by being at the forefront of UK science and technology;
  • Leadership, training and wellbeing of the hundreds of thousands of officers, staff and volunteers in policing; and
  • Long-term financial resilience to deliver a well-funded police service that can contribute to a strong UK economy.

Mr Stephens said listening to, and working with, communities must be at the heart of everything forces do as he put neighbourhood policing right at the top of the national agenda, alongside exploitation of science and innovation, workforce and finance.

He added: “Without strong, well-resourced and well trained neighbourhood teams, the rest of policing becomes so much more difficult.

“And just as precise and compassionate neighbourhood policing is vital to ensuring safe communities, so is a dynamic, forward-looking service trained, ready and prepared to revolutionise how it works based on insight, data, and evidence of what works.”

He made the comments in his opening speech at the annual NPCC and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ Summit in London on Wednesday (November 15), his first since becoming chair in March.

Highlighting the benefits of the growing use of AI, facial recognition, automation and drones across policing, Mr Stephens said this “pushes the boundaries of technology and innovation to improve public safety and is a symbol of our ambition as a service to innovate for our communities”.

“Collectively, I’d like to work with you to make the case, that policing should be a primary place for deployment of the very best that UK science and technology has to offer,” he said.

Also central to his vision is growing, developing and training the workforce to ensure it has the skills and capability to deliver for the public.

To do this, Mr Stephens said they will deliver ten-year workforce plan to “retain the growth and set out the breadth of skills and capabilities needed for the future”.

A national workforce planning capability underpinned by data will be set up and the response in neighbourhood policing, public protection and fraud and cybercrime will be scaled up.

Mr Stephens also pointed to the need for long-term thinking around funding and explained that policing will make the case for local capital investment budgets to invest in modern workspaces, equipment, technology and scientific advances which will increase productivity and help retain staff.

The chief constable added: “I believe that science and technology will be the single biggest driver of reform in policing in the coming years. The pace is awe-inspiring, daunting, and exciting all at the same time.

“As the use of technology increasingly benefits society, it also benefits criminals and those who wish to do harm to our communities.

“Policing cannot stand still as technology evolves. If we do, our effectiveness in keeping people safe will be quickly eroded.

“Innovation and all that it brings quite simply enables our workforce to do their jobs better.  We must push the boundaries of innovation; to be more agile, ensure early adoption and where proven to work, have the capability to quickly scale up nationally.”

The NPCC will launch a new dedicated Science and Technology Committee – headed up by a chief constable – to drive this work forward. And Police Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Paul Taylor has had his role extended and will be in place to oversee and advise policing going forward.

Four cutting-edge technological projects already underway across policing include:

Digital fingerprint matching – A “revolutionary” digital fingerprint matching system that will enable officers to identify suspects from fingerprint traces in real-time at crime scenes is being introduced.

This speeds up the process by three days on average, per case. It will also lead to an increase in fingerprint hits by 50 per cent from 2025-26.

This state-of-the-art technology will “revolutionise” this area of crime investigation and evidence gathering, says the NPCC.

Facial recognition – The NPCC says there is “no doubt the significant role facial recognition technology has and will continue to play” as it galvanises its commitment to be an effective science-led service.

“It is not an exaggeration to say this technology will transform investigation to a similar level DNA did. Retrospective facial recognition (RFR) is not particularly new. It has been used by some forces for a number of years to great effect. We must now use it consistently and we must embrace it in every force,” the NPCC said.

A South Wales Police study found that RFR takes minutes to identify a suspect – without it 14 days. The force also identifies 200 suspects every single month through its use.

“Our public expect us to take advantage of these tools. To not do so lets them down,” said the NPCC.

Automation – There are tremendous opportunities to automate manual administrative tasks, says the NPCC, tasks that take officers and staff away from “vital work to protect the public, investigate effectively and catch criminals”.

It added: “We have now appointed an NPCC Robotic Process Automation lead to take this work forward, with investment of £1.8 million identified to accelerate national adoption and consistent use across policing. This work has been identified as a priority by chiefs’ council.”

Drones – A national programme is underway to capitalise on drone use across policing .

Drones are already an “indispensable tool” being used to support UK policing, with 400 assets currently in operation across all forces, says the NPCC. As part of that programme, EagleX is just one “ambitious project” promoting collaboration between the police, industry and the regulator to begin using drones as first responders.

“This exciting project pushes the boundaries of technology and innovation to improve public safety through drone operations. It is a symbol of policing’s ambition as a service to innovate for communities,” the NPCC said.

Mr Stephens concluded: “Confidence has been dented, in some places severely, but it is not hanging by a thread.

“Most forces have confidence levels above 65 per cent and some remain over 80 per cent. In particular there are a group of forces who invest more in understanding local views, through widescale and systematic community engagement, and eight of those measure confidence levels higher than their results in the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

“The strength of local relationship matter, and can be a solid foundation on which to rebuild. When the world is changing around us, I believe it is important for us to show civic leadership and to speak up for our principles and values.”

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