The development of data analytics use cases accelerated as forces across the UK relied on data to help them respond to the changing crime landscape during periods of lockdown. Those constabularies that introduced dedicated analytics dashboards and applications to manage their pandemic response built them to support crime forecasting (63%) and to geo-map crime (58%).
Many police forces also used data to monitor and track the impact of Covid-19 within their own constabulary. Over three quarters of respondents that created new analytics dashboards did so to monitor cases amongst employees (83%) and to identify which employees were isolating (79%).
“The pandemic catalysed a shift in the crime landscape overnight,” said Andy Marsh, Chief Constable at Avon and Somerset Constabulary. “When lockdown began, instances of shoplifting and burglary naturally fell, while reports of COVID-19 breaches increased. In March 2020 within days of the first lockdown, we had visibility on a number of bespoke data feeds to inform our response to the unprecedented challenge.”
“Using a set of dashboards to monitor breach reports and fixed penalty notices issued, as well as locations of enforcement activity, we quickly understood and adapted to the new and emerging risks of policing the pandemic,” said Marsh. “Through these dashboards we achieved data democratisation, empowering the workforce to make informed decisions based on the same information. Whether you are an operational officer, a 999 calls dispatcher or in charge of managing our vehicle fleet, everyone can make consistent decisions which will keep the community safe and our staff protected.”
The Freedom of Information responses illustrate how police forces across the country are actively using data and analytics to improve outcomes for a safer community and support their teams. However, it also revealed four key areas of opportunity where constabularies can expand their use of analytics to support even better outcomes in policing:
Real-time decision-making: Many police forces are not making data and analytics available to employees outside the station. Indeed, while most forces (88%) offer access to analytics on desktop computers, just over half (58%) provide access on the go via mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, and only 15% of forces make insights available via mobile data terminals in vehicles. Mobile access to analytics is critical in supporting real-time decision making, enabling police officers to take informed actions as new situations arise.
Predictive analytics and forecasting: Identifying crime patterns over time and leveraging that knowledge through predictive analytics can support the prevention of crime and disorder, for example, through proactive intervention efforts and resource allocation. Less than half of police forces are currently leveraging predictive analytics (43%), and just one-quarter (27%) of the analytics tools used by police forces have machine learning capabilities.
Data-sharing: Only half (50%) of police forces are currently part of a multi-agency network that shares data for analysis with partner organisations, such as social services, fire services, hospitals, and even other police forces. Combining data for analysis enables these groups to better understand and collaborate to meet the needs of the community, which often informs preventative interventions and more positive outcomes.
Upskilling police forces in data: Despite many police forces making analytics tools available to police officers (65%), detectives (69%) and community service officers (50%) to help them take more informed actions, the majority (94%) of UK police forces don’t have a data literacy program. Improved data literacy skills empower staff at all levels to be more confident to take informed actions based on the data that is presented.
Andy Marsh, Chief Constable at Avon and Somerset Constabulary added, “There is still a perception issue for data in policing. It is often positioned as a performance and audit tool, rather than something that unlocks and empowers the entire workforce to drive better and smarter outcomes. The true potential of data lies in putting it into the hands of every team member to empower them to take more informed actions in the moment – which ultimately will keep our communities safer. That’s why it’s so important that police forces identify data advocates that can shift this old perception of data and drive forward the new age of policing, ensuring the workforce is engaged in the journey and fully understand the benefits of being a truly data-driven organisation.”
“Data played a critical role in helping police forces better serve their communities as the crime landscape continuously changed during the pandemic,” said Adam Mayer, Senior Manager at Qlik. “There is now a great opportunity for police forces to deliver better data faster and build on their analytic use of data to empower their teams with the skills and capabilities that will enable them to always take informed actions in the moment.”
“More data is being produced than ever before, but it is not always accessible to our teams in the moment when decisions are made,” said Stu Gardner, Head of Performance at West Midlands Police. “So, while it’s encouraging to see the widespread use of data to inform police forces’ response to the pandemic, there’s still a big opportunity for us to put timely insights in the hands of frontline team members to help them drive even better outcomes in our communities.”
About the research
In January and February 2021, Qlik conducted research into the use of data analytics within police forces through a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. As part of the research, 61 police forces were approached, of whom 40 replied. In some instances, the police constabularies did not respond to all questions asked. In such instances, the percentages cited are representative of those forces that responded to the given question.