Technology & Policing over the next 15 years (part 1)


One of the assignments on the 2010 Strategic Command Course ( was to look at future technology trends and their impact on policing. I have developed some of this thinking in this post which is part one of two– let me know your thoughts.

Globalisation v localisation. A response to globalisation (which may well not revolve around US culture in the medium/long term, but some other culture such as China or India) may also include a desire to return to a ‘new localism’ where people focus on and preserve local traditions. Some of this may also be driven by the financial downturn, changing work patterns (working from home) and by increasingly scarce resources meaning local production becomes more common once again. The impacts on public services will include an ever increasing desire for local delivery and accountability, and possibly far less concern about wider national/international issues that cannot be seen to impact locally.

Tribes not communities

Tied in with this is an increasing tendency for tribalism – small groups of like minded people to connect via the internet to discuss plan and plot things related to their interests. Where these are cycling or dog grooming, then this is benign – but the same technology allows terrorists, organised criminality and paedophiles to connect and exchange information as well. These micro trends will increase exponentially, as the internet becomes the de facto place to exchange information and ideas with the tiny handful of people who share a very specific interest in a very narrow field. This has already been seen in scientific research, where significant numbers of very specialised papers are now co-authored by scientists who have never met face to face. In terms of activism, sites such as Avaaz, ( a global campaigning website which describes itself as a community of global citizens who take action on the major issues facing the world today. Within three years it has grown to 3.5 million members, and conducts fundraising and arranges  massive email petitions to world leaders on a variety of issues chosen by its members. A quote from Charles Leadbeater illustrates this well – “We will be able to mashup, remix, amend and adapt existing content, even if only in small ways. As we collaborate with others who are also interested in the same issues so this will throw up clouds of cultural activity as people debate, compare and refine what they share. These clouds will often have at their core high-quality professionally produced content. But that will also attract to it skilled and dedicated amateurs as well as general users.” (


Levels of trust in organisations will continue to erode – this will extend the trend already seen, and will affect the ability of un-trusted organisations to engage and communicate with the public – particularly problematic for the police who require public support to function. One solution may be to combine forces with a trusted brand or organisation (Marks and Spencer policing?). Increasingly people will turn to self generated trusted communication rather than the media, publishers or corporate websites. Manuel Castells describes this as “self-generated content, self-directed in emission and self-selected in reception by many who communicate with many. This is a new communication realm, and ultimately a new media, … it has the potential to make possible unlimited diversity and autonomous production of most of the communication flows that construct meaning in the public mind.” ( )There are of course potential pitfalls in this approach, and what appears to be a trusted source may in fact contain deliberately or accidentally misleading information.

Data obsolescence & information overload

One danger is the probability that data stored in ‘old’ formats (which in computing terms can be just a few years) will be lost through corruption, poor storage and / or technological change meaning the format itself is unreadable. See the 1986 BBC reproduction of the domesday book, already unreadable due to technological changes –

Too much information will be available, with too little ability to filter, search and understand it. For example YouTube, has over 360 million users uploading more video than is broadcast by terrestrial networks. The level of data out there increases the risk that police forces will know enough to solve a crime, but be unable to analyse the data sufficiently well or quick enough to avoid a public scandal. Expect more scenarios like Ian Huntley in the future, leading to calls for some form of national intelligence analytical capability. This will probably include a form of predictive capability, where the individual and neighbourhood likelihood of crime will be pulled together into a ‘crime forecast’, in much the same way as a weather forecast, or how supermarkets forecast demand for goods (see . The US department of Justice is already funding research in this area, and see the US military Tactical Numeric Deterministic Model (TNDM) for an example of how this sort of technology works on the battlefield.

This trend of too much information is also an issue for the public. They already have access to more information about public services than any other generation, but access very little of it, and trust none of it. Getting public attention and trust will rank much higher in the future than simply providing them with ever more information. Again this may be an area where a link with a trusted partner such as will assist.


(Much of this post was inspired and informed by Richard Watson’s excellent book History of the next 50 years and website )

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