Caption: The public is increasingly likely to encounter police in ways that are ‘technologically-mediated’.
A major new research project will examine how police-public engagement is being changed by the use of new technologies.
Over recent years, the ways in which members of the public can contact the police have undergone significant changes. As a result, the public is increasingly likely to encounter police in ways that are ‘technologically-mediated’ by new communication technologies; such as online reporting of crimes and answering of queries, body worn video cameras, mobile data terminals, and the use of social media accounts.
Now, Dr Liz Aston, Associate Professor of Criminology at Edinburgh Napier University and Director of the Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR), is to be the Principal Investigator leading an £862,000 Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded programme to explore experiences and understanding of such ‘technologically–mediated ‘ contact.
Over the next three years, INTERACT – Investigating New Types of Engagement, Response And Contact Technology – will consider the perspectives of both police and public. The study will consider ways in which the police can and should design their systems to better reflect people’s needs and expectations.
“We aim to shape policy and practice, with a view to improving service provision,” says Dr Aston. She will be working with Dr Helen Wells from Keele University, Dr Megan O’Neill of Dundee University, and Prof Ben Bradford at University College London (UCL); as well as new Researchers, funded by the ESRC, who will be based at Edinburgh Napier, Keele and UCL. “We will be working closely with three police forces, and with various communities in each, as well as with national policing organisations.”
INTERACT represents a significant opportunity to impact the landscape of policing policy and practice nationally and internationally.
“Our findings should directly and positively influence what the police do, and what the public are able to do to access police services,” adds Dr Aston.
In the UK, the National Police Chiefs’ Council believes the public expects policing to join other services ‘online’, but while attention is being paid to what technology can do, for the police in particular, the public side of this encounter has barely been considered.
“Online reporting may appeal to some people, or be particularly useful for some crime types,” the team explains, “but we do not know enough about how people experience these types of interactions to be confident that they will be of benefit to everyone, in all circumstances.”
“We also do not know if and how these developments might affect the way people feel about the police and what they do. We know that when people interact with officers they come to conclusions about the trustworthiness and legitimacy of police. But this knowledge is based on research which assumes that most or all contact between the public and police happens face-to-face, as it has done for decades. Given that this situation is changing, it is important that we reconsider our theories of public trust and police legitimacy, and if they are both fit for purpose in the current environment and are future-proof against new developments. ”
Research will also consider what it means for the police to be ‘visible’ and ‘accessible’ in a digital age and assess how the public feel about the different ways the police can be seen and contacted.
“Using a variety of methods our research will develop understandings of police legitimacy in changing times and allow us to recommend ways for the police to stay legitimate in the eyes of the public in the 21st century.”
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