The IoT-enabled police officer - building a digital law enforcement future

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 28, 2017
The IoT should be about more than intelligent toothbrushes and self-ordering fridges. Police forces worldwide could benefit from IoT tech potential.

The IoT offers new ways for police to communicate

Along with AI, it’s basically compulsary for every tech vendor out there to have an Internet of Things (IoT) pitch to spin, some more convincingly than others. To that end, we’ve heard a lot about intelligence toothbrushes, fridges that re-order milk and Coca-Cola machines that know when they’re about to break down.

But beyond all this there potential societal benefits of the IoT revolution that could help to relieve pressure on public service delivery. Today sees the publication in the UK of a report on the role of IoT technologies in policing and law enforcement. It’s a report whose findings and recommendations may be sourced from the UK, but which have applicability around the globe as the need for ever more digitally-savvy police forces grows.

The report’s top line conclusion is that IoT tech offers authorities opportunities to serve their communities better, provide higher levels of public safety and save money. Henry Rex, Programme Manager for Justice and Emergency Services at techUK, the technology trade associaton which compiled the report, explains:

Trends indicate that most crimes will soon involve some use of the Internet, or create some form of digital footprint. Police forces will require the resources and skills to respond to this. With this in mind, the police should look for closer collaborations with new partners, especially in industry and civil society to reduce the risk and acquire the right technologies to do their work effectively. If the police can get to grips with the IoT now, they will not only be able to mitigate against the potential threats, but will also be able to seize the opportunity. An IoT-enabled police force would lead to increased efficiency and enhanced public safety.

It is a big task however, as ACC Richard Berry, Chief Officer Lead, Digital Investigations and Intelligence Programme, National Police Chiefs’ Council, points out:

Digital policing is a technological endeavour which demands improved workforce and operational capabilities. In order to e ectively face such challenges and move at an increasing digital speed, we should look to create agile approaches to managing change.
Police forces across the country have already been adapting locally and there are many pockets of good practice.

However, digital challenges can be different to those previously familiar to many in policing. Distributed network challenges require distributed networked responses. Reliance on centralised and traditional command and control approaches does not necessarily provide people and groups with the free space necessary for creativity and innovation. Such facilitation underpins the organisational capacity to be adaptive.

There are opportunities afforded by the IoT to improve policing, argues the report.

Crime detection

IoT devices ranging from home security systems to sensors across smart cities will help enable police to know, in the most serious crimes, where a suspect was, who they were with and what they were doing. Some have theorised that this may indeed act as a deterrent, as criminals know they have a far more likely chance of being caught.

Risk analysis and prioritisation of resources

Advanced use of data - bringing together and analysing information from a number of sources - could help the police better prioritise resources and protect o cers. Visualisation systems now exist that allow forces to monitor and integrate a wide array of data streams, like transit maps, weather reports and crime statistics. Authorities can then look for patterns and trends.


Digital forensics is a growing aspect of everyday policing. The IoT, however, has the potential to make it easier and quicker to gather evidence…[Digital forensics toolkits] could vastly accelerate police investigations, as officers would be able to extract the information required far more quickly than at present.

Police and public safety

Connected autonomous vehicles will provide the opportunity to cover areas that might otherwise not have been prioritised. Systems are already being designed that allow connected ambulances, police cars and re engines to communicate with other vehicles on the road…Similarly, body cameras have already been deployed across forces to improve accountability, while sensors off er a further opportunity to support officers operating in the most dangerous environments.


The report makes six key recommendations, each of which could be applied to law enforcement bodies worldwide. These are:

A new model for partnership with industry and academia

[A Managed Service Provider (MSP) mode] could work as a partnership between police forces and specialist suppliers, in which a middle component – the MSP - exists to manage interactions and maintain the agility that is needed to tackle crime as dynamic as cyber. The MSP will provide the coordination between the buyer and supplier, vetting and accrediting suppliers.

Redeployment of the security index

A security index of dfferent specifc services or devices will reward best practice and drive improvements. This is based on the success of the [UK] Car Theft Index in the 2000s. The number of car thefts decreased by 16% between 2004 and 2005, with the fall being attributed to improved security features on the latest vehicles…In this context, a security index for those devices most featured in crime reports might be developed. One could be redeveloped for cars, now highly connected. Given that data on the make and model is already recorded, this would be practicable in the short term, and reassert the police’s role in helping inform consumers.

Public outreach and a prominent police voice

[In the UK] the NCSC and GCHQ are working hard to create tools and advice for businesses and the public to reduce cyber-crime. The police must work closely with them, providing input where needed, and staying fully versed in these technologies, playing a prominent role in deploying them and helping communicate their purpose and operation to communities. Public outreach efforts could also be enhanced by the production an educational resource pack for teachers focused on cyber-crime prevention.

Digital skills across the policing curriculum

The capability of first responders is crucial in building the public’s trust and con dence in the police’s ability to tackle cyber-crime. This is important if victims are to be encouraged to report these crimes, especially as cases of online crime grow with the IoT. Embedding of digital skills throughout key policing education and development – both as a standalone module and throughout wider teaching - will give more o cers greater con dence in exploiting technology.

Greater resources for public safety app creation

With the IoT, the potential of apps is even greater. Within a smart city crime-reporting apps could be built into connected infrastructure, and such public-facing apps could vastly increase the reporting of crime and intelligence-gathering. Moreover, mobile apps for police devices could allow for much greater e ciency at the scene of a crime, with apps ranging from forensic examination to recording witness accounts. Perhaps most fundamentally, apps making it easier for at-risk communities to report crime could create a more effective link between the police and some of the most vulnerable populations.

Cyber-security as corporate social responsibility

It is difficult for the police to attract and retain individuals with the skills required for effective digital policing. Employer Supported Policing (ESP), a [UK] scheme in which an organisation can support staff in volunteering as a Special Constable, is already in place. Indeed, special officers with unique skills responding to digital challenges are already volunteering. However, to boost and maximise these existing opportunities, volunteering as a special constable should be a way of fulfilling a company’s CSR requirements.

My take

A lot of the recommendations laid out in the report have some serious ethical challenges around data and personal privacy that need to be addressed - and the authors acknowledge that these are present. But the need to tackle some awkward questions shouldn’t deter governments and law enforcement agencies from realising the potential of the IoT to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of policing. This is a UK-based report, but the questions and recommendations contained within it can be usefully applied to other countries. Well worth a read - and a good initiative from techUK to lay down a marker on thought-leadership in this field. The full report can be found here.

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