Gearing up for the Future of Digital Policing

The NICE Digital Policing and ESN Readiness Seminar 2017, held last month at the Williams F1 Conference Centre in Oxford, UK, focused on the increasing complexity of digital investigations and the impending Emergency Service Network (ESN) switchover. With guest speakers, Jimmy Cockerton from Microsoft Azure and Andy Cunnah of the North Wales Police, the event provided a one-of-a-kind opportunity for representatives from UK police forces to learn what these trends mean for them and how to get ready.

The Countdown to ESN

With the countdown to the ESN well underway, the event kicked off with a discussion about the challenges that control rooms are facing. Currently police, fire and ambulance communications in the UK are enabled through the Airwave radio system. But early next year the government plans to start transitioning to existing commercial 4G networks and switch off Airwave. On the one hand, this will allow emergency services to access real-time information, send images and stream high resolution video. On the other, it will add complexity as agencies ponder how to capture and store these new data sources.

A smooth transition is clearly key to success. There will be points where the old and new networks will need to work alongside each another. Darren Terry, NICE's public safety technical manager, emphasized the importance of managing these additional data sources and communication channels. With the onus now on emergency services to be operationally ready for the change, he says that it's critical to start preparing now. Agencies need to think about how they will use the new data, such as body-worn footage, GPS data and SMS media.  For instance, will police officers recording an arrest on a body-worn camera, live-stream the recording to nearby officers for assessment and support to save time? Can fire and rescue crews assessing burning buildings use digital blue prints and live helicopter camera footage to improve how they handle the situation? 

It's important to start preparing for the transition now, rather than being swamped by data when the network goes live.

Digital Policing and the Need to Manage Digital Evidence

The ESN isn't the only catalyst driving change in policing. Initiatives such as the Digital Policing Portfolio have set out a vision of digital transformation that will radically transform how police forces do their work. Andy Cunnah of the North Wales Police  explained the need to reduce the paperwork burden on police forces and how that could be accomplished by moving to digital case files. While underscoring that new and better forms of evidence are very welcome, he also spoke about the growth of data and future management challenges.

The amount of digital data created and stored by police forces will only continue to grow, as multimedia becomes ubiquitous. The question is: 'how will police forces store all of this new data?' The transition from filing cabinets to cloud storage is one that Jimmy Cockerton, police technology strategist at Microsoft Azure, knows very well. According to Cockerton, as forces become inundated by video and other digital evidence, the process of saving this evidence to disk is only going to become more problematic. There are obvious benefits to storing digital evidence in the cloud, like increased productivity and scalability, but Cockerton says the cloud can help police forces become more modern, cost-effective and agile too. Cloud-based digital evidence management solutions also enable better collaboration between police and other public safety stakeholders, as information can be easily and securely shared.

Ultimately, moving to cloud-based digital evidence management solutions will digitally transform the collection, analysis, and sharing of evidence, and this will have profound implications in terms of improving case solvability and investigative effectiveness. 

Final Thoughts

With the ESN on the immediate horizon and digital evidence growing every day, polices forces will soon be inundated by multimedia, both in the control room where emergency calls are handled, and in the investigative department as well. Technology will be key to helping forces manage the digital deluge while also leveraging information to its fullest potential to improve public safety and investigations. What technology is on your agency's short-list? 

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