The use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in policing is increasing worldwide, including in post-conflict areas. ICTs are increasingly used for administrative efficiency, crime reporting, surveillance and intelligence gathering, accountability monitoring, and for reaching out to youth through, for example, the use of social media.
ICT-based reporting tools are particularly common. Telephone hotlines and apps to map incidents of different types of violence may provide anonymity in situations where reporting to the police is considered as colluding with the authorities. They may also be useful for breaking down the barriers of reporting for victims of crime associated with stigma and taboos – for example when it is considered shameful to report gender-based violence (GBV). Read more here.
ICT is, however, no magic bullet, but associated with ethical dilemmas and risks. ICT use requires high degrees of accountability and data privacy and protection measures to safeguard that the technology does not compromise trust, safety, security or basic freedoms of the population. There must be strict control of who has access to data, and that the information received ends up in the right hands – in the correct office. The measures must prevent the technology from being misused to increase surveillance of the population, and – ultimately – oppress individuals and groups in society, such as minorities and dissidents. Where trust in the police already is a deficit, trust in ICT solutions, such as reporting tools – and that information will be handled properly and/or that the police will be able to respond, register and prosecute the cases – will also be low, and the technological solutions will most likely not be used. Read more here and here.
Access to technology is also important. For the community, access to ICTs such as radio, cell phones, TV, internet varies according to economic position, gender, as well as the urban-rural divide. ICT solutions should therefore be multifaceted and exploit widely accessible technologies. For the police (as well as other governmental officials, such as health workers) apps are useful to look up specific information, such as laws, procedures for how to deals with specific issues, who to contact, how to talk to victims, and the rights of victims may be useful.
In policing, technology development is typically top-down – controlled by the police and developed to respond to their need. ICT initiatives stand a greater chance of being trusted and used if they are designed in collaboration with potential users and with consideration of the local context. ICTs are also most useful when based a broad understanding of “what’s going on”, in terms of what constitute human insecurities at local levels and how this is connected to incidents of crime. Different stakeholders (police, social welfare, prison and prosecution, as well as civil society actors) should consolidate their efforts towards improving trust between the police and the community as the users of the ICT solutions. In sum, the meaningful use of ICT in COP initiatives must be based on an understanding of what types of ICTs are in use in the particular context, by whom, and for what reasons.
There is a potential to use ICT in COP if care is taken to ensure the technologies are developed in close collaboration with the intended community users. In four of our cases (Kenya, Guatemala, Pakistan and Kosovo) we have explored ways in which ICT could enhance police-community relations and contribute to improved trust and human security. In all these cases, the focus has been on the participatory development of low-level, accessible technologies. Learn more about the ICT4COP tech models here.
“ICTs cannot build trust by themselves but must be used in ways that support face-to-face trust-building processes. Traditional forms of interaction remain – indeed – important for Community Oriented Policing” (Dr. Ingrid Nyborg, Project Leader for the ICT4COP research project)