Police chiefs to launch online hub for forces’ use of tech, data and science

NPCC website will allow officers to see what peers in other parts of the country are doing

Credit: West Midlands Police/CC BY-SA 2.0

The National Police Chiefs Council is to launch a new online hub to collate information on how forces around the country are making use of technology, data and science.

The website – science.police.uk – will go live later this year and, according to the NPCC’s national policing chief scientific adviser Paul Taylor, will provide “a single gateway into science in policing”. The platform will include news on what technologies are being used, alongside primers, a magazine and other information. 

“We have a federated model of policing for very good reason. But what that does mean is that sometimes, somebody in Merseyside doesn’t know what somebody in the Metropolitan Police is doing around, say, coding and data analytics,” said Taylor, in an exclusive interview with PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World.

As well as giving forces a better idea of what is happening elsewhere in the country, the website will act as a “signpost to academia and industry” of the NPCC’s areas of research interest. “If you talk to technology companies, they’re often a bit frustrated that they don’t know exactly what we want sometimes, and they’re not quite sure who to go to [to find out],” Taylor said. “And it’s also a great way for… government departments to know what we’re doing as well. We’re very keen on cross-department join up and it’s a great way of allowing people to see what we’re doing.”

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It is also being developed with the public in mind. The chief scientific adviser’s office funds around 50 research projects, and details of that work and its outcomes will be shared on the website. “I don’t think we’ve been as good as we could be about demonstrating the value-add that science and technology is bringing to the efficiency, to the transparency and to the value for money that policing’s offering the public,” Taylor says.

“I think we should only be using public money if we can demonstrate and have a track record of showing how valuable it will be,” he adds. “The challenge is to get to that point where it’s demonstrably clear that this investment will save us money in the short to medium or even longer term.”

In potentially controversial areas such as facial recognition, pursuing open science can also help the police strengthen public trust according to Taylor – whose appointment last year marked the creation of the national scientific adviser role, which is funded directly by the Home Office.

“The general thrust that I’ve had since I’ve been in office is one of real transparency and really buying into the open-government and open-science agenda,” he said, adding that the Met and South Wales Police have published the findings of their facial recognition trials online.

Publishing information about trials, along with research findings and anonymised data sets, is “a really important way to build public trust so that the wider professional research community can interrogate what we’re doing and critique it and say, ‘actually, no, I think you’ve got it wrong or you’ve missed this,” he added.

“I think that allows for wider public trust in the system.”

Read CSW’s full interview with Taylor here, including insights on how the scientific study of oceans and canine temperament are helping support the work of the police. 

Sam Trendall

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