How technology can improve police-community relationships

"Technology plays an incredibly important role in making people feel safe, solving crimes, and building trust and legitimacy within the community."

This article originally appeared in the October 2021 Police1 Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, see 4 steps to accountability | Tech & transparency | Police Week tributes, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions

Discussions and analyses of current issues in policing are not hard to find. In addition to commentary on social media and the mainstream press, there are studies generated from government agencies and advocacy groups. A report from Veritone, a company specializing in artificial intelligence applications, represents a unique category of study from the perspective of corporate interest.

3,000 Americans speak up on law enforcement

The report, Transparency & Trust: Shining Light on Police & Community Relationships and How Technology Can Help, is a compilation of survey results from 3,000 Americans regarding their perspective on law enforcement.

The results are encouraging for those who have been thinking that law enforcement’s reputation had sunk to historic lows and is unlikely to recover soon.

Over half of respondents say their perceptions come from actual interactions with law enforcement, indicating that personal contact remains the most potent ingredient for positive public relations. Two of the top three ways that respondents heard about police activity was from police agency sources, but 42% believe there is a need for more transparency

Four out of five Americans feel safe in their own communities and 75% of those say that police help keep them feeling that way. Nearly 40% believe that current police funding is adequate, with 18% saying funding is too high and 14% saying funding is too low. Well over 80% believe that police resources should be focused on violent crime matters, with 40% believing that assisting with medical and mental health calls is also essential.

When polled about the use of technology, 61% accept police use of facial recognition for identifying suspects, most support body-worn cameras even if they don’t understand the rules for releasing the video. While 44% support more funding for anti-bias police training, fewer than a fourth approved of collection of data regarding the race of police contacts.

The public shows some sympathy for the plight of police officers in the current environment, with 62% saying that law enforcement officers have had a more difficult time doing their jobs in the last 5 years than previously. Only 15% believe police officers don’t care about their community.

The issue of transparency in the age of immediate news sourcing rather than the now outdated method of issuing a press release hours or days after an event may be closely tied to public confidence in law enforcement. The survey also showed low engagement with traditional community policing activities like public meetings and events. While confidence in the police acting in the public interest is above two-thirds of respondents, more specific questions like honesty with the press, making non-biased judgments, using technology, use of force and protection of Constitutional rights score lower.

Technology's role

So what role can technology play in increasing confidence in law enforcement?

As Assistant Chief Bailey of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is quoted in the report: “Technology is very important, especially now when we’re trying to be data-driven and intelligence-driven in policing. With limited resources and the demands on law enforcement growing by the day, we have to allocate wisely. Technology plays an incredibly important role in making people feel safe, solving crimes, and building trust and legitimacy within the community. The more information we can provide at the public’s fingertips, I think the better off we’ll be.”

One example is speeding the release of potentially controversial body camera footage. The report estimates that viewing footage to conceal the identities of uninvolved subjects can take an hour for every minute of video. Artificial intelligence technology can complete that task in minutes. Other technologies such as predictive policing can increase public confidence if the public is educated as to its purpose and limitations.

Policing still trusted, but suspicions linger

The good news is that policing is still trusted and respected by the majority of the citizenry. The bad news is that lingering suspicions remain.

“Public misconceptions about policing sometimes occur due to a lack of understanding about operations, a lack of access to records, or how LEAs manage and retain records. With better technology and objective data leading the way, LEAs have the opportunity to shine a light on their operations and answer the public’s call for increased transparency,” states the report.

Leaders can determine how to engage and enlighten the public about how they use technology that still maintains privacy, as well as using that technology to respond quickly to the public’s need for information.

NEXT: Policy transparency: A communication toolkit

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