It has become commonplace to refer to a rapidly changing world when discussing some of the challenges facing policing today and in the future. References to globalisation, technological change and of course the internet abound. But what are the really important changes that will directly affect policing in the years to come and how will they adapt to them?
Ipsos Mori publishes an Almanac every year and this year’s contains a couple of important messages for the police. Although crime (including murder) is falling, most people think it is still rising and fear and anxiety are still pervasive, withthree out offour people in Britain thinking the world is now a more dangerous place. With large numbers concerned about rapid change, increasing numbers of immigrants, greater complexity and too much choice in their daily lives and increasing social and economic inequality, the police may find they are still called upon to provide reassurance in this age of increasing anxiety and insecurity. No matter that crime has (ostensibly) dropped to its lowest level since the mid-nineties, people still feel unsafe and insecure and often don’t know where to turn for help which as the Manchester twitter experimentso vividly demonstrated is when they often end up calling the police.
As far as policing is concerned, the worried well will continue to demand a visible street presence (preferably their street) that PCCs will find hard to resist. The less well-off benefit claimants, new migrants and the generally dispossessed will still see the police as them’ rather than us’, a force to be reckoned with rather than a force for the good. But as the economic crisis continues to make their lives increasingly precarious even those in work are finding it harder to make ends meet I cannot help but feel that some will seek new opportunities, many of which will be illegal/criminal, to secure their survival and access the good life’, images of which are now consumed on an hourly rather than a daily basis. But with traditional forms of crime such as burglary and car crime falling out of favour, where will these new opportunities arise? My guess and its already being evidenced is that the internet will provide them.
The internet is already having a profound effect on people’s behaviour, much of which is or will end up exercising the police in a way which they would never have envisaged just a few years ago. Youth crime has fallen, ostensibly as a result of the huge increase in the amount of time young people spend communicating with each other on social media sites and wiling away their leisure hours on their x boxes and play stations rather than hanging around on street corners. Where will the police go to find the low hanging fruit’ their commanding officers will (still) demand? Sexual crime is rising, bucking the overall downward trend in crime, and the way in which the internet creates distorted and unrealistic expectations about sex surely has a role to play in this. And then there’s internet fraud, the precise extent of which remains contested but which, it has been suggested, now constitutes the largest volume crime of all. Asthe Office for National Statisticsreminded us in the summer, seven people are defrauded every minute in the UK and if fraud (much of which is perpetrated online) were included in the annual crime figures, the total would increase by 50 per cent. The internet provides a new, tailor-made opportunity to commit crime, but with less risk and more reward.
With the British buying more online than any other nation in the world, perhaps our police service, considered by many to be the best in the world, needs to take a firm lead in developing a completely new model of policing that goes well beyond the creation of face-saving specialist units and fully embeds cyber-policing into the role and function of every police officer. (Nobody’s ever heard of Action Fraud, which only deals with a tiny fraction of the cases referred to it and should be quietly put down). At a time when the police and other public services are being savagely cut, securing the skills and the resources to seriously address this issue must be the biggest challenge facing the police in the next few years.