Police officers at an event

3PO: Understanding online risks to protect police officers and their families

A new £3.4 million research project, 3PO, will explore the unique challenges faced by police officers and their families online, and offer solutions for greater privacy, protection, and a safer online experience for six UK police services.

The project has been funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Strategic Priority Fund as part of the Protecting Citizens Online programme.

Understanding the unique challenges faced by police officers

The internet is a huge part of our daily lives, but for many public-facing professionals, being online can be a high-risk activity. Policing professionals working in the public eye face a unique set of challenges, from assault and harassment to being the targets of threats from terrorist groups and serious organised crime. These risks can also extend to their family members who sometimes receive direct threats or have safeguarding and privacy fears.

3PO will seek to build a detailed understanding of the specific risks faced by policing professionals and their families. Once these are fully understood the project aims to provide technologies and solutions that will empower police officers and their families to participate in online life in a more private and secure way.

While the focus of the research is very much on the police and their dependents, it has been designed to ensure that solutions are transferable to other public-facing professions and members of the public like teachers, politicians, journalists, and advocates who are also exposed in a similar way.

Edinburgh Napier key part of highly experienced team

Researchers at Edinburgh Napier University will form part of a highly experienced research team, collaborating with four other universities (Sheffield Hallam, Oxford, Cambridge Universities and University College London), six UK police forces, the Home Office, and the Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR).   

Joining the research team from Edinburgh Napier are Dr Liz Aston, Associate Professor of Criminology and Director of the Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR), and Dr Shane Horgan, lecturer in Criminology and programme leader for BSc Policing and Criminology and Monica Boyle, SIPR Knowledge Exchange and Business Manager.

When speaking of the fieldwork involved in the project, Dr Shane Horgan said: “Policing is a diverse occupation, with many roles that look often nothing like each other. Different roles involve exposure to different types of risks. I will be looking at how information about privacy and security is communicated to a variety of units within police organisations, allowing us to build up a picture of where these supports work best to build on good practice. Equally, it will allow us to identify where they can be refined and improved to support different roles more effectively.   

“When we have developed tailored materials based on data generated by the project, I will lead another phase of fieldwork to explore how our materials work for these different groups, and most importantly where they don’t work. This will allow us to further refine the outputs for our stakeholders, but also develop a uniquely detailed picture of the diverse security and privacy challenges different policing roles face.”  

Dr Liz Aston said: “We are delighted that Edinburgh Napier University and the Scottish Institute for Policing Research are leading the dissemination work package for the 3PO project, which seeks to understand the risks and mitigate the online harms that public-facing professionals and their dependents face. We are looking forward to working with a range of partners to deliver this exciting project, which will have important implications for the protection of citizens from online harms.”

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