Policing in a networked world

Canadian insights

Transformation at the centre of policing

Policing is going through a major global transformation. Changes in society, crime and technology require police services worldwide to change their long-term strategy and how they measure their impact—often in the face of austerity and limited budgets.

Police departments need to adapt to new citizen expectations by embracing transformation in all areas of policing. The types of crimes police service face and how they approach them have evolved, while technology lies at the heart of faster, better service delivery. We conducted a series of interviews with Canadian police leaders to discuss their best practices and the challenges posed by changes in crime, society and technology.

The core mission of the police is to keep the public safe. But as we move forward, how police departments deliver their services and the trust they foster in society are becoming as important as the tangible results.

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Changes in crime

Today’s policing world has extended beyond traditional crime and is being impacted by socio-political challenges, emerging technologies and changes in demographics—and the usual policing methods are no longer enough to fight new and constantly changing forms of crime.

In order to keep up with an environment that’s constantly shifting, police services need to adjust their models, focusing on these megatrends as well as evolving citizen expectations. Embracing innovation, cross-sector collaboration, digital initiatives and workforce transformation is crucial.

Breaking down silos

One of the major trends currently affecting police services is the need to provide more than just crime prevention. Issues like social disorders, mental health problems, addictions and homelessness are causing police services to change the way they help the community. And collaborating with both public and private partners—as well as academic institutions—is arguably the most important element of that strategy.

There’s a push for the police to be more proactive and connect with other community services to help address certain issues. For example, officers work with mental health professionals to identify individuals at higher risk of going into crisis so frontline responders aren’t getting repeat calls for service.

“Dealing with these different entities and trying to come up with solutions that help the health care system, help the police and help the community, while making sure we’re providing comprehensive public safety services, is the goal.”

—Adam Palmer, Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police Department

“What we’re trying to do is work in a more collaborative fashion as well as work with outside agencies, whether they’re private, public or non-profit, in an effort to provide a much more collaborative response.”

—Paul Martin, Chief of Police of the Durham Regional Police

“Different social services need to speak to each other. The concept of collaboration is to look at what’s happening instead of the usual ‘Send a police officer.’”

—James Ramer, Deputy Chief of the Toronto Police Service

Enabling the workforce

As policing continues on this journey through transformation, enabling the workforce with the knowledge and skills needed to respond to these new challenges is essential. And while technology, data and collaboration are important, having the police service engaged, informed and fully on board with the concept of change is what will ensure success.

Working with members to determine what future capabilities will be required to address organizational transformation will encourage integration, allowing the workforce to be part of the discussion about change—while setting the right expectations.

“Empowerment, participation and understanding. That’s where you get buy-in. We ensure our people are empowered, involved and engaged. That’s the way you do it. If they’re left on the sidelines, that may cause a lack of understanding in the engagements.”

—James Ramer, Deputy Chief of the Toronto Police Service

“Whether it’s focus groups, surveys or more use of social media platforms, our organization needs to take all those different approaches to make sure that we’re reaching out, that our people are informed and, more importantly, that they have an opportunity to get involved in the change.”

—Charles Bordeleau, Chief of Police of the Ottawa Police Service

Changes in technology

Policing transformation revolves around technology—not only new technological initiatives but also the impact new technologies have on the workforce, resources, budgets and citizen interaction. Many police services continue to rely on largely manual processes—taking notes, scheduling or undertaking administrative tasks. Police chiefs recognize the importance of embedding more automation to better allocate time and resources.

Having a tech-savvy workforce that understands the world is becoming digital gives the police a chance to use technology in the most effective way, not only to drive productivity but also to connect quickly with their communities. For example, citizens can now report crimes more easily using their mobile device.

“We’re just getting more intelligence driven, taking advantage of technology, understanding that our world is now shifting due to factors like cybercrime, and we understand that our workforce is shifting too.”

—Rod Knecht, Chief of Police of the Edmonton Police Service

The power of data

Data holds incredible value when it comes to police investigations. Predictive policing, for example, is about using data and analytical approaches to identify criminal activity and repeat victimization, helping officers solve crimes, make faster decisions and better protect the community.

Police services are under pressure to give officers access to data in real time—or in as close to real time as possible. At the Toronto Police Service, the connected officer program uses technology to enable the front line to access information and investigative data in the field, regardless of their location, to make better and faster decisions. This will help the workforce do more work in the field and reconnect with their communities.

But establishing the proper platform to manage all this information can be a challenge. Rushing data-driven approaches without having a proper plan could end up becoming a waste of money and time.

“We need to be able to use data, big data and analytics so that we can strategically deploy our resources much better. Everybody’s trying to address that to some extent.”

—James Ramer, Deputy Chief of the Toronto Police Service

“When it comes to these emerging technologies, it’s about having the right people, the right processes and the right technology in place. You need the appropriate mix of not only sworn officers but also civilian professionals who are experts in data analytics, in IT and in running these systems to their full potential.”

—Adam Palmer, Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police Department

Stimulating innovation

Encouraging the police service to think outside the box and empowering them to do so with proper training, education and co-creation are necessary in a world dominated by digital.

It’s clear new technologies and the innovation agenda will continue to impact police operations. But the contact between an officer and a member of the public is hard to replace, especially when it comes to policing. This makes emerging technologies a complement—not a replacement.

For that reason, police services should also aim at using technology and innovative methods to improve communication with the public. From crime reporting from a mobile device to online break-in information, technology can help improve the relationships between officers and the community.

But while technology can help enable transformation, it can also enable criminals, since many types of real-life crimes can also be conducted in the cyber world. When it comes to transformation, tech initiatives can only help as long as they aren’t deployed just for the sake of it. Police leaders need to understand the difference between new attractive initiatives and new attractive initiatives that bring lasting value.

“It’s not about what looks shiny and new, and because everybody thinks it’s great, we’ll make it fit in our operations. It’s about how to find or co-create something that will fit our needs.”

—Paul Martin, Chief of Police of the Durham Regional Police

“I think policing has evolved dramatically. And we’re already seeing the benefits of partnering with different agencies and the private sector to make sure that we are getting access to the best technology.”

—Charles Bordeleau, Chief of Police of the Ottawa Police Service

Changes in society

In order to keep up with the constant changes and be able to address new challenges, trust and transparency between police and communities need to be at the core. Gaining and maintaining that public trust is imperative. Without trust, police services can’t operate successfully, let alone undergo a major transformation.

“I don’t think the laws are keeping up with the changes in society; they are not keeping up with technology, advancements on the internet and cybercrime.”

—Rod Knecht, Chief of Police of the Edmonton Police Service

Open channels

Establishing open channels of communication with the community and being mindful of those relationships are essential to solidifying the public’s trust. These relationships allow for teamwork and collaboration. The goal is to always report back to the community, maintaining public support with clear and constant communication. And the shift comes when officers listen to the community. Instead of telling citizens what they want, it’s about understanding what the public wants from the police.

In addition to developing more open means of communication such as town halls or consultations, police services in Canada are increasingly listening to what communities have to say on social media—this allows for more diverse, dynamic and timely conversations.

Working with communities to develop stronger trust and unlock collaboration opportunities is extremely valuable in an environment dominated by media.

“Sometimes it comes down to really the simple things. Letting your people know that you care about them, that you genuinely value them—and explaining why you’re doing something, not just what you’re doing.”

—Adam Palmer, Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police Department

“We’re not going to tell you what you want from policing. You tell us what you want from policing.”

—Rod Knecht, Chief of Police of the Edmonton Police Service

Embracing diversity

Diversity is a major factor when it comes to enhancing today’s police services. Embracing a shift in perspective and making sure the police reflect the same diversity as the community can help strengthen police legitimacy. Looking for opportunities to learn from and collaborate with different cultural groups, like First Nations police services, allows the police to draw from different viewpoints relevant to their communities and, ultimately, achieve the goal of solving and even preventing crimes.

These efforts to be more inclusive and diverse are a response to changes in people’s experiences, expectations and perceptions of the police. This includes diversity in gender as well as cultural or religious diversity. Police departments should always be reflective of the public they serve.

“We’re always looking for people who are reflective of the community we serve. We need people who speak different languages, who understand different cultures. This will help maintain a trust relationship and help us effectively conduct investigations.”

—Charles Bordeleau, Chief of Police of the Ottawa Police Service

“Whether it’s gender difference, cultural background or historical difference, a more diverse workforce is able to get different views and better communicate with different communities on a more human level.”

—Paul Martin, Chief of Police of the Durham Regional Police

“Building public trust requires sustained efforts toward maintaining inclusive partnerships and mutual respect, as well as recognizing and valuing the contributions of all of our diverse communities.”

—Rod Knecht, Chief of Police of the Edmonton Police Service

Thank you to our Policing in a networked world contributors

Charles Bordeleau, Chief of Police of the Ottawa Police Service
Rod Knecht, Chief of Police of the Edmonton Police Service
Paul Martin, Chief of Police of the Durham Regional Police

Adam Palmer, Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police Department
James Ramer, Deputy Chief of the Toronto Police Service

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