Last week I was talking to a colleague about how police legitimacy drives public consent for police actions—and the role of digital policing in handling it. Legitimacy is an issue that we often see playing out in the media and it has been at the heart of policing principles since the force first began. Sir Robert Peel, seen by many as the “father” of modern-day policing, developed a list of principles that are as relevant today as they were nearly 200 years ago. The first principle is simple but captures the essence of law enforcement: “The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.” The remaining eight principles address how to perform the basic mission of preventing crime and disorder, one of which strikes at the heart of the legitimacy and consent topic: “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.”
So how can police departments keep legitimacy at the core of their policing operations? Probably the easiest route is straightforward visibility. Officers need to step outside their vehicles and engage with the community, get to know people face-to-face, as this is an essential step in building trust. Community policing is about problem solving and partnerships—working with citizens and organizations to develop solutions to problems. These solutions naturally involve a collaboration between the community and the police. Which is why police corruption can be so damaging—when an officer tarnishes the badge through corrupt practices, the entire police department suffers.
I’m sure most of you will agree that it can take years to gain the trust of a community, and one small incident to lose it. Nothing impacts how a community feels about its police department more than the use of force, especially deadly force which has spurred many incidents involving riots and violence in recent years. And while, in the United States, a legal review might find a shooting to be justified in accordance with the US Constitution, its perception, often fueled by the media and fact-lite, can lead to chaos and destruction.
I strongly believe police chiefs must have an effective and proactive process to review all use of force incidents and use that analysis to identify officers who fall outside their peer group. Mere numbers do not tell the story; a comprehensive review of officers’ use of force must provide a complete picture of their activities, training, chain of command, and experience, to name just a few metrics. Facts are the only way to alter perception, and when it comes to shootings where officers are involved, the facts must be fast and readily available. If they aren’t, perception can swiftly become reality—think of the “hands-up don’t shoot” fabricated narrative around the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Police departments can gain public approval of their actions but they may need to think creatively to do so—and take advantage of digital technologies in the process. Consider whether:
- Social media might help to give a department “virtual” visibility
- Police chiefs can use online services to enable more people to “see” their officers
- If community policing could move to a virtual world
- How to use technology to ferret out police corruption
Accenture has worked with the Seattle police department to develop an effective tool to address the use of force issues, but there is more that can be done. For instance, much of what is called predictive analytics is simple data-mining. Departments today need to develop real predictive analytics with algorithms validated by years of data to help police identify indicators of abusive policing.
Policing today is faced with a significant legitimacy problem—and the public can help them solve it. By continuing to innovate using digital policing tools and techniques, the police can make a wise pivot to new ways of retaining legitimacy and trust.
Let me know what ideas you have to help police forces across the world maintain legitimacy.
See this post on LinkedIn: Securing the community’s trust: How police can make it happen.