Law enforcement agencies today find themselves at a critical juncture. All are facing mounting challenges related to the complexity of crime in the 21st century. At the same time, they are also having to re-establish public trust in policing. With calls being made to move funding away from agency budgets and into other more tailored skill sets, these crises are striking at the core of policing. Indeed, police face a host of existential challenges and pressures.

The central goals of law enforcement agencies — to protect the communities they serve, maintain public order and safety, solve crimes, and bring criminals to justice in the courts — are being undermined as they struggle to derive key intelligence and insight from the exponential growth in the variety of digital sources.

Agencies find themselves at different levels of digital maturity. Contrary to popular public opinion, many police agencies do not operate like the televised crime drama “CSI.” For many agencies, day-to-day operations and workflow remain largely manual, disconnected, and even archaic.

Net-new digital crime, problems trusting digital information due to the rise of disinformation, and a growing “techlash” against next-generation technological solutions like artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition complicate this situation further. Topping all this off is COVID-19.

While the current moment is a fundamentally challenging time for police, it also presents an opportunity to reinvent — to reimagine — a new digital policing framework. And this process must begin by asking a series of difficult questions:

  • What should policing look like in 2025?
  • How can law enforcement agencies better demonstrate their value to the community?
  • How can they also show the ROI that technology investment delivers to communities?
  • How can a convergent thundercloud of challenges be turned into a constellation of opportunities?
  • What is needed NOW to start delivering on that vision?

So, what SHOULD policing looking like in 2025?

Policing needs to be ethical, trusted, transparent, and inclusive. Core operational technologies – increasingly embedded with AI and machine learning (ML) – must engender digital trust. To do that, the workflow must be auditable and traceable to ensure it is deployed ethically. And it absolutely has to be secure. Police investigations in 2025 will need to be evidence-based, data-driven, and committed to the equitable administration of justice.

With the widespread adoption of what IDC calls the “innovation accelerators,” meaning bots, drones, social media, augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR), wearables, and the Internet of Things (IoT), it has become crystal clear that law enforcement agencies must harness advanced capabilities to make sense of a continuously evolving landscape of digital assets.

To manage this data deluge, policing in 2025 will need to leverage digital intelligence platforms and next-generation core infrastructure – agile, responsive, scalable platforms that deliver real-time, live detection, processing, and sharing of vast swaths of data. Digital intelligence platforms will need to integrate heterogeneous data sets with internal systems, services, and capabilities.

Fundamentally, digital intelligence platform solutions are increasingly being deployed to revamp broken systems and archaic workflow. Emerging technology adoption should increase situational awareness, allowing agencies to connect the dots more quickly.

The pervasive connectivity of IoT devices, content creation on social media, and real-time data feed on smartphones will further transform crime investigations and the need to manage secure inter-jurisdictional information sharing. In turn, this will lead to more decentralized but unifiable intelligence-gathering models and methods. Law enforcement agencies are in an era of intense digital disruption, transformation, and digitalization.

What should agencies be doing TODAY to realize this vision?

First, have a very clear baseline understanding of your digital capabilities. Prioritize critical use cases for your agency and geography. Understand how digital intelligence platforms cogently unify disparate data sources, allowing agencies to move more quickly from information to insight.

Focus on force multipliers like AI and anticipatory analytics. Understand the key enablers to successful implementation. Lastly, pay attention to your people. Like much of the post-pandemic workforce, law enforcement personnel will need to be reskilled for a changed world.

IDC has written a whitepaper that explores Policing 2025. Download “Policing 2025: Envisioning a New Framework for Investigations“.

Alison Brooks, Ph.D., is Research Vice President, Smart Cities, and Communities – Public Safety. Dr. Brooks specializes in public safety-related research for the global Smart Cities Strategies program at IDC. Ms. Brooks has held a number of positions with IDC over the past 15 years, primarily focused on niche public safety technology adoption.

Dr. Brooks’ research focuses on the digital transformation of public safety within Smart Cities. The research will explore digital evidence management, intelligence-led policing, Real-time Crime Centers, advanced analytics and visualization, and mobile crime-fighting solutions.

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