The history of policing dates back to 1829 when Sir Robert Peel established the first Metropolitan Police Services in London.
Over time, the Police Service has grown into an established entity in every country.
Today, a concept known as digital policing has emerged, much in alignment with the world’s heavy reliance on digital tools.
More and more citizens, for instance, expect to be able to access the services of the Police on a daily basis, online, via social media or through messaging systems in the same way they access banking services or receive medical advisory services online.
As these high volumes of transactions take place online, there is increased digital or cybercrime recorded, leaving a trail of digital evidence which the Police Service needs to effectively analyse and utilise as they hunt criminals, reduce conflicts and proactively prevent crime.
Digital policing can be described as the willingness of the police to respond and adapt to changes brought about by digitalisation with a view to providing high quality consistent services to citizens in preventing and investigating both digital and non-digital crimes.
The outcome of a successful digital policing system is the creation of a police service which is agile, forward looking, modern and responsive.
Digital Policing in action
There are now thousands of established and evolving applications which the Police Service can rely on when it comes to digital policing; digital forensics, predictive policing, distributed sensing and virtual patrols, evidence-based policing, cloud-based note-taking technology, mobile fingerprint, online reporting system among others.
For digital policing to work, there needs to be a change in attitudes, culture and practices of police officers; moving them from an “analogue” mindset to a world of digital possibilities. This can be achieved through training and by increasing their capacity to deal with digital threats by becoming familiar with the digital environment whose criminal elements are constantly changing their modus operandi. A unified IT system across various police departments integrated with social media monitoring capabilities is key to digital policing.
Mobile fingerprint devices are important tools in digital policing. These allow an officer to fingerprint suspects on the street and compare these with stored central databases using a simple scanner instead of having to go back to the office to undertake this task.
Police officers can also take notes on the beat using cloud-based note-taking technology connected to a central police station system, allowing for cross referencing, especially of crimes which occur in multiple locations and require collaborative efforts from different stations. Further, police squad cars are becoming equipped with computers and other communication processing devices to provide officers with real time capabilities to process crime data. Thanks to digital policing, citizens can report crimes online. This means the information is recorded digitally and it is less time and resource consuming for the state and the individual.
Another exciting area in digital policing is digital forensics also known as computer forensics which focuses on recovery, intelligence gathering and investigation of content related to and found on digital devices linked to digital crimes and threats. It supports policing with tools and processes that help uncover and interpret digital data with the aim of preservation of relevant evidence.
In the Nigerian commercial capital of Lagos, the Nigerian Police Service has established Information Technology Centres, equipped with trained personnel, digital cameras, Digital Assert Management Systems Software (DAMS) to support the capturing and storing of police exhibits in centralised databases for quick retrieval thereby supporting effective prosecution of cases. Also, as part of Nigeria Police Service’s, digital policing efforts, they have established a Public Complaints Rapid Response Unit (PCRRU)], which enables the public to connect with the police using a number of platforms including Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, SMS, Blackberry Messenger and a mobile application. In Ghana, the Ghana Police is taking steps through its Police Transformation Programme, centred on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) among other reforms to facilitate effective policing across the country.
In conclusion, digital policing done well, can help mitigate the adversarial police-citizen relationship, replacing it with one which is anchored on mutual trust and respect. The future of policing in Ghana should, therefore, be firmly rooted in digital policing; new philosophies and methods that shape law enforcement since it is the anchor for modern crime prevention.
By Kwami Ahiabenu | The writer is Director of Innovation at Penplusbytes.org – you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org WhatsApp : 0241995737