Police embrace digital disruption but need training to reach full potential

11 October 2018 Consultancy.com.au 5 min. read

According to a new report by global digital consulting and professional services firm Accenture, the public safety landscape is transforming at speed and scale, requiring police forces to develop new workforce strategies, structures and skills. The study identifies how police in Australia, the US, UK, France, Singapore and Germany view issues such as digital disruption, the gig economy and evolving digital threats.

As with every profession, law enforcement will not be immune to the oncoming wave – or perhaps tsunami is a better word – of digitalisation. Driven by dramatic gains in Industry 4.0 technology (which includes artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, big data and blockchain), the future of work will challenge the traditional ways in which public safety agencies operate. 

The Accenture study, titled 'Reimagining the Police Workforce: A Vision for the Future', looks at the changing landscape of an increasingly digital world. It identifies five key themes which will need to be addressed to bring together law enforcement agencies and emerging digital technologies. They include; a flexible labor market, technology and humans, explosion of data as a workforce tool, new threats, new demands and political turbulence.

“Our findings highlight officers’ dedication and commitment to policing and keeping the public safe and secure, as well as their willingness to learn new digital skills to better fight crime and enhance public safety,” said Jody Weis, the leader of Accenture’s Public Safety practice in North America. “However, rapid digital change demands smarter workforce planning, and leadership must anticipate and plan for the future skills needs of their organisation. New technologies offer an unprecedented opportunity for police employees at all levels to shape a new type of workforce, one that is diverse and flexible and capable of coping with the demands of modern-day policing.”

Police embrace digital disruption but need training to reach full potential

“Digital disruption is too great for any one organisation. Today's complex policing challenges can't be solved by the police alone,” says James Slessor, Accenture’s Industry Lead for the firm’s Global Public Safety practice. Slessor is referring to the quantum leap in technology which enables digital crimes including online fraud, hacking, identity theft and cyber-terrorism. To combat the growing portfolio of digital threats – and considering how Industry 4.0 tech will produce unforeseen uses – over three quarters of the police professionals expect that digital skills will be in more demand over the next three to five years.

“This research tells us that while most police officers are excited by the opportunities new digital technologies afford and the impact they will have on their workplace, many are challenged in their use of the technologies due to a lack of training or access to specialist skills and knowledge,” said Rachel Phillips, who leads Accenture’s workforce transformation team for the public safety practice.

“Every policing organisation must prepare its workforce in the use of new technologies and enable employees to benefit from the opportunities that the technologies will bring to their operations over the coming years,” Phillips went on to say.

For instance, 62% of police professionals believe that AI will have a positive impact on their jobs; automating the mundane police work such as filing reports, detecting threats in CCTV footage or sifting through phone evidence for dodgy activity. AI can also be used in the speedy detection of suspects using a connected network of cameras and facial recognition databases. By taking the repetitive tasks, police will have more time to do what they do best, which is police work.

“Digital disruption is too great for any one organisation. Today's complex policing challenges can't be solved by the police alone,”
– James Slessor, Accenture

“The findings relating to AI are particularly surprising, with more than two-third of respondents already using the technology,” said Weis. “The challenge for public-safety leaders is to ensure that AI is deployed responsibly and with best practice governance and transparency measures in place. Citizens must clearly understand the benefits of the technology, and civil liberties must be protected through human oversight.”

Whilst the growing use of digital technologies in police work will unquestionably come with ethical issues, the report suggests that trust is an inherently human emotion. As the police force adapts and enlists these new technologies, the success of technology-revolutionised operations will be contingent on citizen’s consent. The future of police work may also include relying on a growing number of employees that work on a freelance basis, demanding a cultural shift from agencies.

“In the face of tremendous opportunities and challenges, the future vision of the police workforce needs to be just as bold and defiant. We need to really stretch our thinking: How will we define a police officer in the future?” said Rachel Phillips, Consulting Lead of Accenture’s Global Public Safety practice.

A cultural shift may also be required to attract and retain talent in the future of police work. Traditional draw cards such as stabile pay, pension and healthcare schemes, and lifelong work may not be enough in the gig-economy, especially seeing the average wage for a blockchain technician in Silicon Vally is over US$150,000. The law enforcement industry will need to embrace innovation, creativity and diversity among candidates as a way to remain a relevant option.