State of Policing report - Forces are using 20th Century methods to cope with 21st Century problems

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez July 5, 2019
Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Thoms Winsor, argues that police forces need to invest in AI and new technologies to cope with the changing nature of crime in England and Wales.

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The State of Policing report is an annual investigation by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary into the effectiveness of police forces across England and Wales, making a number of top level recommendations to improve effectiveness. This year’s report notes that forces are struggling to keep up with the changing nature of crime and should make investments in new data and AI technologies to help manage workloads and the vast amounts of data now being included in investigations.

Thomas Winsor’s follows recent criticism from MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee, which said that police forces’ adoption and investment in new technology is “quite frankly, a complete and utter mess”.

The Committee said that the biggest failing was not the level of funding, but the “complete lack of coordination and leadership on upgrading technology over very many years”.

The State of Policing report takes a less critical tone, balancing the changing nature and increased levels of crime across England and WAles with more systemic challenges that range from funding to the fragmented nature of policing organisations.

The report notes:

In too many respects, the lines on the map created by the current 43 force structure act as barriers to the exchange of intelligence, to co-operation, and to true efficiency and effectiveness.

There is a pressing need to develop an effective and efficient single system of law enforcement, with clear local, regional and national components. For the police to develop such a system, there are options for voluntary or compulsory reform; the case for the latter is becoming increasingly strong.


Whilst the tone is balanced, Winsor does note that there has been a real-terms reduction in police funding of 19 percent since 2010/11. Police funding for the 2018/19 financial year stood at £12.3 billion, which provides for a workforce of approximately 190,000 people (equates to about one police officer for every 480 people).

However, the report states that the funding is not just about police numbers, it also has to pay for everything that the police need to do their jobs. And this is increasingly being focused towards technology-related crime. It adds:

Increasingly, some also needs to go towards investment in new capabilities to tackle the changing face of crime: for example, technology to analyse the dark web, or to overcome the use of encrypted communications by organised crime groups.

Police spending in England and Wales represented only around 2 percent of public expenditure. Yet policing is among the most essential public services of all; without it, society cannot function. Without public safety and security, the other institutions of society will be in jeopardy. Their ability to operate will be compromised and may even be extinguished.

New investments needed

The State of Policing report outlines how there has been a huge growth in demand from the widespread use of digital devices and how this is making investigations “more complex due to the sheer volume of evidence stored in, for example, mobile phones”.

The huge swathes of data being collected mean that forces need to invest in new methods of collection and monitoring. However, worryingly, a recent review by the Attorney General found that the police often did not comply with their legal obligation to record, retain and review material collected during the course of investigations. Winsor notes:

This has profound consequences for the integrity of the criminal justice system, and especially the lives of those who are accused, and those who are victims or witnesses.

One answer to this problem is to make use of artificial intelligence to identify, from bulk material, only that which is relevant to the case. The report notes:

But its availability in policing is far from widespread, and its use raises important ethical questions about its intrusiveness, reliability, fairness and safety.

Nevertheless, it will be impossible for the police and prosecutors to achieve prompt and true justice without highly effective technological methods to acquire and analyse the large quantities of data now available in criminal cases. As long as the police persist in using 20th-century methods to try to cope with 21st-century technology and ways of life, they will continue to fall further and further behind, and the quality of justice will exponentially diminish. Justice delayed is justice denied; the denials of justice in the modern day may be reaching unprecedented and alarming levels.

Again, it’s not just about the money. There are undoubtedly opportunities for the police to use its funding more wisely: for example, by making better use of technology.

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