Contact and confidence: Improving police-public interactions with technology

Contact and confidence: Improving police-public interactions with technology


This project investigated the contribution that technology can make to improving public trust and confidence in the police.


Attention is turning, once again, to the relationship between British policing and the public it serves. Falling detection rates, poor contact handling, reductions in community visibility, scandals over police misconduct, occupational ‘culture’ and treatment of minority groups, have all combined to bring renewed focus to questions of public confidence, trust, and legitimacy.

As MPS Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley took office with a promise to deliver more “trust, less crime and higher standards” and to prioritise the “renewal of policing by consent”, police forces across the country looked for policies, strategies, tools, and techniques to improve the way they interact and communicate with crime victims, citizens, and communities.

These public “touch-points”, although part of a larger equation, are important drivers of satisfaction and wider attitudes towards police, over which police agencies have some degree of direct control, and much is already known about the things police can do to leave a positive (or at least non-negative) attitudinal trace from public contact in its various forms. But how should past academic and practice learning (about “asymmetry”, procedural justice, and community engagement, for instance) be applied in a context where the way we communicate and “make contact”, right across society, is being radically altered by technology?

From banking to buying take-away, dating to counselling, in healthcare and in education, our daily interactions are undergoing unprecedented ‘channel shift’. Not only is the internet reducing friction and speeding up service provision across the economy, but it is also producing a data-rich society in which more can be known about what citizens and consumers want, need, and think, allowing organisations to target their communications in a much more nuanced and sophisticated way.

Although often thought of as an essentially (or at least ideally) ‘analogue’, face-to-face business, requiring attendance and presence, policing is, of course, not immune to these social and technological shifts: online crime reporting is now commonplace, Body Worn Video promises to de-escalate confrontational encounters, and some police forces are experimenting with video conferencing and live chat to improve their interactions with vulnerable crime victims. But the potential for technology to change the way police interact with the public in ways that have positive pay-outs in terms of public trust and confidence, (not just efficiency), is only just beginning to be recognised and explored.

This project investigated the contribution that technology can make to improving public trust and confidence in the police. More specifically it aimed to:

  • Distil the lessons about police contact and public confidence, from research conducted in a more ‘analogue’ age, that should be taken forward into a digital one.
  • Investigate how the profile of police/public contact is changing and the potential implications of this for public confidence.
  • Understand more about the way police forces are responding to the challenge of improving trust and confidence and the strategies, approaches, and tools they are employing.
  • Identify examples of how technology is helping to transform public contact in UK policing, as well as overseas and in other relevant sectors.
  • Think ahead about the potential opportunities, challenges, and limitations of technology to improve public contact and the police/public relationship over years and decades to come.

We are grateful to Futr AI and Zen City for supporting this project.

Photo by Rahul Chakraborty on Unsplash