This project was undertaken to explore, and provide information about, an issue or topic. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the Government of Canada.
E-policing is the transaction of services and information between the police and citizens via the Internet. A recent review of police service models and call management suggested that use of the Internet to report calls for service was an emerging trend. This study, carried out by Research and Evaluation and Urban Policing, CCAPS, addressed these questions pertaining to e-policing:
E-Policing - The State of Knowledge
The Internet is increasingly central to public access and information. Secure reporting of non-urgent incidents is one Internet application that is proving useful. Online crime reporting allows the public to file police reports for some incidents and crimes via the Internet, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Police departments can retrieve these reports when police resources are available. This frees up patrol officers who would otherwise spend time tracking down these incidents.
E-policing expands our channels of communication through the Internet but it does not replace telephone or face-to-face contact, which remain important. Developing an e-policing initiative requires:
For the community:
For the police
Electronic Transactions in Canada
Because e-policing depends on computer use and Internet access, we examined Canadians' access to and use of computers. Surveys show that Internet use is increasing in Canada.
If citizens use the Internet regularly, would they communicate online with the police? This question was evaluated through a public consultation. Group discussions with a cross section of citizens and RCMP police officers were held in different divisions across Canada .
From its inception, the RCMP has continuously adapted to meet the changing needs of society and technology. Topics discussed in this consultation included:
There was no doubt for participants that the majority of police services would still be delivered face-to-face. However, they also thought that initial contact and many routine tasks could be handled electronically. For participants, conventional access to services and face-to-face contact were equally important as electronic access.
Why should the police be involved in e-policing? The police must adapt and evolve with society. Examples from the banking industry or private sector were given as examples to follow and learn from.
In terms of expected services, e-policing definitely opens up two-way communication: police to citizens and citizens to police. Many participants saw that the police could be more effective at the level of service delivery. Expectations are that online reporting could reduce the demand on front line officers, switchboard and front counter staff.
Two major questions surfaced regarding privacy issues
In terms of future development, the evolution of technology was described as rapid and irreversible in all spheres of society. Participants used the penetration of Palm Pilot, Blackberry, iPOD and home computers as examples. In the near future they assumed these systems would be integrated and connected.
Participant police officers noted that 15 years ago almost every front-line activity feedback was written by hand. Now everything is computerized, from laptops in police cars to databanks, etc. The police have evolved. However, contrary to what was expected, time spent writing reports has increased, especially with the implementation of PROS (Police Reporting and Occurrence System). IT implementation has not created more time for higher priority police activities.
Suggestions for best results and success included:
Citizens are willing to contact the police online and expect to see e-policing implemented soon. How much are police responding to this expectation for two-way communications? We surveyed police web sites to find out and, in particular, whether these sites incorporated online crime reporting.
Police Web Site Survey
All police services selected for this survey had a web page, usually separate from the municipal web page. However, not all police services in Canada have web sites. There is no standard information architecture determining features and structure, or design protocols for presenting information. Devices ranged from icons to underlined hyperlinks and simple listing of information.
Electronic communications between the police and the public are underutilized. Although 45% of Canadian police web sites offer at least one e-mail contact address there is little available above that level. Figures are not more impressive in Europe or in the USA .
Online crime reporting for minor crime is only available on one Canadian police web site. However, economic crime can be reported online, sometimes without providing personal information, through the Phonebusters or RECOL programs. However, economic crime is not always a minor crime from the victim's viewpoint.
There are a few other applications for e-policing such as online bicycle registration or online registration for crime prevention programs such as Neighbourhood Watch. In some cases, it is possible to tip off police to crimes in progress, prostitution or traffic violations.
E-policing through online crime reporting is almost exclusively used in the UK where it is well developed. Very few studies on e-policing have been done in North America or elsewhere, which explains the lack of literature and evaluation studies on the subject. The fieldwork done for this study in association with police services in the UK , Vancouver Police Department ( British Columbia ) and Tracy Police Department ( California , USA ) shows how online crime reporting really works day-to-day.
In the United Kingdom the initiative came from a government white paper requiring local councils to have their services available electronically by 2005. PITO, a non-departmental organization under the responsibility of the Home Office was created for procurement of IT systems and hardware to the police forces. A data management system the Portal was developed as a single point of entry for information.
The Portal has three major modules:
It is not mandatory for police forces to connect to the Portal, however there is no charge for to police forces for using it.
The Suffolk Constabulary experience shows how in less than 12 months, the police and the citizens learned to use the system for their specific needs:
Online crime reporting is no longer seen as a big issue. However, communication is. Since its implementation, the level of information traffic has not changed, yet the portal has changed the public/police relationship by allowing online/real time communication between the police and the public.
Whether people have computers at home or not is not an issue. There are Internet cafes, computers in public libraries, etc. The portal fits in with the current/future use of technology. The issue is more how the police can manage this relatively new source of information efficiently.
As is the case for any technological adaptation, training and planning are required before implementation. One of the police forces observed during our field study was not using the Portal to its full capacity because they did not realize its potential. There had been no strategic planning of any sort and only crime prevention initiatives had been transferred into the Portal.
The UK case study suggested that technology such as Internet portals can connect the police with segments of the community in a two-way communication process. We observed that the police had developed a new approach whereby the police authority was sending messages directly to the community or to some part of it (for example, a request for information and reply from citizens). The UK police have access to a communication network that can accommodate electronic messages in the form of illustrations, photographs, text messages and e-mails from concerned citizens or informed sources.
Vancouver Police Department ( British Columbia )
Vancouver Police Department (VPD) implemented its online crime reporting in 2001. In 1999 VPD reviewed service delivery and concluded that Internet reporting would be ideal for public reporting of minor property offences and non-emergency incidents. The online crime reporting system did not prove to be demanding or time-consuming for the staff dealing with the submitted forms. Dealing with service calls from the public only required a simple reorganization of schedule, no additional staffing.
The VPD web page explains the six-step process required to fill and submit the form, the time required and a list of reportable crimes. Senders are promised a response within five working days; most (62%) are notified the same day. Police review takes three to six minutes and 80 to 85% of reports require little or no modification. Once the review is complete, the sender is e-mailed an incident number. Data from valid reports are automatically transferred into the records management system (RMS).
Tracy Police Department ( California )
Tracy Police Department worked with a private company that had developed an online crime reporting system. The online crime reporting system operates in an ASP environment, connected to an independent server that receives the information sent online, processes the information and forwards it to the police server on a secure connection. Tracy PD pays a set annual fee, which makes it easy to budget. The security and system updating are the supplier's responsibility.
Each report is reviewed by staff dealing with calls for service. The process takes about five minutes. Notification is done electronically. There was no need for training or new personnel.
The web site invites the public to submit reports for crimes that are commonly not investigated, such as minor theft. Users receive online assistance to help write reports, which can be submitted in many different languages. The system uses automatic translation to render the report in English. Usage of online crime reporting is slowly increasing every year. TPD estimates that each online form received saves an estimated US$40 (no dispatch, no trips to the field, no phone calls, no duplication of work).
TPD sees online crime reporting as an easy process for citizens to use and easily integrated with their own workflow:
E-policing is not about technical issues; it is more about cultural changes within police organizations. Are organizations ready to work with citizens with electronic tools?
Value and Definition
Issues Related to Process
Problems that may surface with online crime reporting include:
Online crime reporting offers benefits for both communities and the police. As described in the literature but seen differently during field work, e-policing is reputed to provide: