The public sector finds itself at a crossroads. The public’s demand for transparency in investigative processes continues to increase, which is causing even the most effective law enforcement agencies to re-evaluate two standard styles of policing: proactive—placing officers at locations with a history of crime to deter further issues—and reactive—focusing efforts on dispatch call response.
Their finding: cut-and-dry proactive and reactive models no longer work.
If the goal of policing is to protect civilians from becoming victims, then the practice of reactive policing shows its inherent limitations. While it may result in arrests, innocent lives may have already been affected by traumatic and potentially life-changing events.
Consequently, the problems with proactive policing are murkier. To many, being proactive means strategically placing more officers in the field, effectively reducing crimes through their presence and show of force. But following this strategy transforms the police from a protective and trusted force to more watchful eyes, which may make innocent civilians feel like they are being incriminated. If done improperly, proactive policing may lead to distrust or even conflict with civilians.
If both proactive and reactive policing are problematic, how do communities and law enforcement agencies determine the best approach to deter crime? The answer lies less in modifying standard investigative processes and more in reshaping the police-civilian relationship through intelligence-led policing—and technology will play a key role in this shift.
What is Intelligence-Led Policing?
Much like proactive policing, intelligence-led policing (ILP) involves the use of crime statistics to identify and help reshape at-risk communities. Rather than using data to seek out offenders, however, ILP works to ingrain officers as active members within these communities, allowing them to better understand their beats while strengthening their relationships with community members.
ILP has three major effects on a community:
* It dissuades crime. Traditional proactive policing focuses on known criminal hotspots. While placing an officer in these areas may reduce crime, it also enables criminals to better familiarize themselves with policing patterns. Conversely, by maintaining a non-threatening, daily police presence in the neighborhood, officers send a message that the whole community is protected—not just the areas where crime is more likely to occur.
* It opens lines of communication between officers and citizens. We’ve all seen the “see something, say something” campaigns. Police can’t be everywhere at once, so they rely on citizens to report suspicious activity. For this policing method to remain effective, however, citizens must feel comfortable that their tips will be heeded by the officers. When the beat officer becomes a known entity to residents and business owners, citizens are more likely to report criminal activity. They’re passing the information to someone who has a stake in the community, someone they trust, rather than someone who is frequently assigned to new areas.
* It gives officers a better idea of where trouble may arise. Data can help us reduce the number of times an officer must enter a volatile situation with little to no knowledge of the terrain. Police can use ILP to identify those in their community with established records and begin in-person dialogues that dissuade further criminal action. And in the event there is criminal activity, responding officers will have a better understanding of the situation and potential actors before entering the conflict.
ILP’s core philosophy: humanizing police, as well as the citizens they protect, is the most effective form of crime prevention.
How Does Technology Drive ILP?
Many law enforcement agencies are now experiencing depleted resources and an incoming generation whose desired job criteria do not match typical policing requirements (77% of millennials say flexible schedules would make them more productive, an unrealistic ask in the field). Consequently, allocating resources to community engagement is a luxury that many departments cannot afford. Therefore, unless we find a solution that’s less reliant on extra bodies, gaps in policing will continue to grow.
ILP technology is designed to drive efficiency, enabling officers to focus on preventing crime, revitalizing troubled neighborhoods and ultimately reducing department workload. Even if a precinct is operating with 60 to 70% of officer positions filled, ILP-focused technology can help the force operate as if 100% of spots were filled.
Many ILP-driven police departments use the data they’re already collecting, such as criminal records, to determine the best neighborhoods for patrol. However, software solutions designed with ILP and machine-learning capabilities can make more strategic decisions by analyzing crime data and recommending hour-by-hour patrol areas, enabling departments to effectively allocate officers among these areas.
As more police departments turn to ILP, police chiefs will need to obtain complete officer buy-in to ensure the program’s ongoing success. A common approach is offering incentives to move officers to areas recommended by the software. By tracking a police vehicle’s GPS, the department knows whether the officer is in the recommended neighborhood and can evaluate their efforts over time to determine their effectiveness. The commanding officer can then design a strategic performance forecast and track how well officers are implementing tactics toward meeting the forecast. Departments could also choose to make the data available internally, encouraging officers to challenge themselves and meet or exceed their co-worker’s efforts.
A New Focus in Policing
ILP can drive a radical shift within police departments so that the focus will soon be less on the number of criminals arrested and more on the number of civilians protected. Standard proactive and reactive policing make it easy for civilians to de-humanize officers. Yet, when officers become involved in a community, they build trust, the most powerful weapon.
Employing statistics to prevent statistics: Welcome to the new era of crime fighting.
Rich LeCates is director of product management, public safety analytics for Superion.