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The police force of tomorrow: Agile and tech-savvy

By Moritz Oberli and Theodor Biedermann

Demographic, social and technological changes are creating new forms of crime and enabling criminal networks to operate more effectively across national borders. At the same time, tight budgets are limiting the ability of police forces to meet these challenges, which can lead to a loss in confidence of citizens in the fight against crime.

However, as set out in PwC’s report Policing in a networked world, new technologies are also opening up new opportunities: for better networking, shorter reaction paths, simpler administrative processes and the prevention of crime through data analysis.

New crimes, new skills

Using new technology to tackle today’s criminals means acquiring and developing new skills. For example, cybercrime is now one of the most lucrative fields for criminals, with the global cost estimated to reach US$6tn by 2021. Specialist know-how and skills are required to navigate cyberspace and apprehend the perpetrators.

Successful police forces will therefore need to recruit new specialists and develop new skills, to be able to use modern technology and intelligent data to suppress or disrupt the acts of criminal organisations. The police force in Switzerland is a typical example. When we prepared our report Sicherheit in einer vernetzten Welt [Security in a networked world], based on seven interviews with Swiss officials and police officers, the issue of developing the police of tomorrow kept coming up in our discussions.

According to those interviews, police work needs to be smarter. That means police officers need to be as comfortable with technology as the criminals who are using it. Although uniformed police will still form the backbone of any police force, the changing nature of crime means authorities need more officers and staff who are tech-savvy.

The re-invention of policing

Indeed, data and technology are changing the very nature of police work. The quantity and variety of data, as well as how it is used in almost all everyday situations, have seen explosive growth. This change should not just be seen as a threat. With tech-savvy staff, police forces can take advantage of the digital traces left behind by criminals.

New technologies also offer an opportunity for smart data usage, creating demand for new skills among police forces. The impact, as we found in our interviews with Swiss officials, is the need to recruit not only officers with skills on the street but also those capable of working in the back and middle office as IT and investigative specialists. The sheer volume of data is also creating the need for emergent disciplines such as IT forensics,  which can help develop new algorithms that make data analysis easier.

The war for talent

Recruiting and retaining the officers of the future is therefore a major strategic challenge for the police. This challenge is aggravated by the fact that in many countries, the age pyramid is now mushroom-shaped (with a narrower base and a wider top), and a disproportionate number of experienced workers, including police officers, will be retiring in the next few years. In addition, the members of Generation Z, who are just now entering the workforce, are seeking greater freedom and breadth of work.

In Switzerland, the Intercantonal Police Academy Hitzkirch (IPH) is striving to meet these challenges. But police forces often have limited financial means to compete in an extremely competitive labour market. For example, fixed salary brackets in the Swiss cantons can make it more difficult to hire IT experts. In addition, the increased number of specialist roles, some of which are staffed by external contractors, is a challenge for police organisations to manage in a traditionally more hierarchical structure.

Furthermore, policing will continue to be a job which is active 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This requires significant flexibility from employees. Police work can also be extremely demanding, if not dangerous, as staff work in the “shadows” of society. But this responsibility on behalf of society can also be a huge motivating factor when recruiting — if work conditions are, and stay, competitive.

Recruiting and training the police force of the future

So how can police forces find the talent they need now, and in the future?

Importantly, there needs to be creativity in the recruitment process. In the cantonal police of Neuenburg, the increasing need for more scientific expertise and the use of cognitive intelligence has expanded the types of workers recruited, such as investigative journalists.

Another approach, which has been developed in Lucerne is to segment police roles more effectively. This might be achieved by differentiating job descriptions in order to find suitable personnel based on specific tasks. In Lucerne, the job description of ‘Security Assistant’ (prisoner transport) was introduced through just such differentiation. One result of these efforts is that police officers with general training can be focused on doing more preventative work.

Versatile training and education in applied sciences, such as cyber, can help with talent recruitment. Partnerships with technical or university institutions and centres of competence can help attract scientific experts outside the police.

The approach to developing staff will have to be modernised. In Switzerland, basic training has already been adapted for the next generation of police. For example, one of the main goals of many police operations is to immediately secure electronic data carriers as evidence to be analysed later in an investigation. The next generation of police recruits are learning how to do this.

Clearly, police forces face great challenges as they strive to be fit for the future. This means acting quickly to strategically plan and source the talent needed by recruiting and training employees who can fight the new generation of tech-enabled crimes while retaining the capability to maintain law and order on the streets.

Check out our Policing in a networked world study for insights from six countries on the key challenges that the police are facing today and their innovative responses.

Moritz Oberli is a Partner and the Industry Leader for the Public Sector practice with PwC Switzerland

Theodor Biedermann is a Senior Manager in the Public Sector practice with PwC Switzerland.

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Gustav Baldinger

Partner and Advisory Services Leader, PwC Switzerland