Major new research project will explore use of new technologies in policing in Scotland

A major new research project will explore how the use of new technologies is changing interactions between police and the public in Scotland.

The £862,000 Economic and Social Research Council funded programme will take place over three years and involve interviews with both police officers and members of the public within three police force areas, including Scotland and two parts of England which are yet to be confirmed.

Online reporting of crimes and use of social media accounts are among the aspects likely to be studied, and the deployment of police body worn video (BWV) cameras in Scotland would be incorporated should they be introduced during the research timeframe.

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Police Scotland is currently seeking public views on the use of BWVs by armed police, with Chief Constable Iain Livingstone consistently voicing his strong support for the move as a “pressing, critical, ethical and operational imperative.”

Dr Liz Aston, director of the Scottish Institute for Policing Research and associate professor of criminology at Edinburgh’s Napier University, is leading the new research.

Dr Liz Aston, director of the Scottish Institute for Policing Research and associate professor of criminology at Edinburgh’s Napier University, is leading the new research entitled Investigating New Types of Engagement, Response and Contact Technology.

She said the aim is to identify ways in which police can better design their systems to reflect different people’s needs and expectations, be it people of different ages or those living in urban and rural parts of Scotland - and they also plan to speak with the deaf community.

Dr Aston said: “Every policing organisation is trying to make improvements to bring them into the 21st century online, and police don’t always have the time to explore the implications.

“The exciting thing for us will be how we can help improve and shape policing strategies to ensure they are better for users of the police service to contact the police and get a good service.”

Dr Aston said that online reporting, for instance, may appeal to some as being particularly useful for some crime types, but that not enough is known about how people experience these types of interactions to confidently say it will benefit everyone in all circumstances.

She added: “We also do not know if and how these developments might affect the way people feel about the police and what they do. We know that when people interact with officers they come to conclusions about the trustworthiness and legitimacy of police. But this knowledge is based on research which assumes that most or all contact between the public and police happens face-to-face, as it has done for decades.

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“Given that this situation is changing, it is important that we reconsider our theories of public trust and police legitimacy, and if they are both fit for purpose in the current environment and are future-proof against new developments.”

The new research project will involve a variety of methods, from surveys and focus groups and in depth case studies to spending time with police officers and observing how they work.

Dr Aston will be working with Dr Helen Wells from Keele University, Dr Megan O’Neill of Dundee University, professor Ben Bradford at University College London (UCL), as well as new researchers who will be based at Napier, Keele and UCL.

The project is expected to start within the next six months.

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