English: Metropolitan Police officers on patro...
English: Metropolitan Police officers on patrol in London’s Trafalgar Square (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been thinking about how policing in the UK might evolve over the next few decades. This is a combination of evaluating the background I’ve done for Perfects and also looking at perhaps running some more near future police roleplaying over the summer. I’m going to pick an arbitrary date of 2040, 25 years in the future.

One thing I’m sure won’t change is the concept of policing by consent. It’s a fundamental plank of how we do things in Britain, and we know that it works. Other things that I think are given are

  • budget pressures (the perennial more with less cry)
  • the adoption of new technology to transform how policing happens
  • visible policing with people on the ground

So it’s an evolution of traditional policing rather than a pivot to Judge Dredd, the latter definitely isn’t a by consent style of policing. The change is akin to the transformation of policing from the 1970s until now. The time frame is slightly shorter although one can fairly safely argue that police reform was kickstarted by the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE).

As William Gibson is noted for observing

the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed

We can see the beginnings of a number of things in the way police use technology

  • police in Hampshire have been wearing cameras for a few years
  • police in Merseyside had a drone (until it crash landed in the Mersey)
  • police helicopters are used to track escaping people and vehicles to vector police officers to arrest them
  • Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras are now standard in police vehicles. Linked to a mobile data terminal they let police know who owns the vehicle, if it is taxed and insured etc.
  • Facial recognition / matching has a wide range of applications including the automated gates at the Border control.

So there are a wide range of technologies that are currently been proven and are likely to be adopted across the police services. Budget cuts and imperatives from the centre to cooperate more will drive some of this up. What we are likely to see is a greater homogenisation of the police services, perhaps with some mergers.

English: Two fixed-view security cameras, and ...
English: Two fixed-view security cameras, and lights, at an industrial park at Almondsbury, Bristol, England. Taken by Adrian Pingstone in September 2004 and released to the public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Police are very likely to be wearing cameras well before 2040. They’ll likely be required by law to record their interactions with you. In the early days of this it will no doubt lose some police officers their jobs, but the police will get used to it and in due course it will increase confidence in their impartiality and honesty. People will find ways around this but I  would expect the video will be streamed to a secure server where individual officers weren’t able to tamper with it.

Another key feature is ANPR for people. Police will use biometric capture from their cameras to identify people. I’d expect beat police to have some sort of head up display that indicated interesting people to them. This will save a lot of police time in trying to identify people. It might also change some of the criminal attitudes to things too. Getting caught is a side effect of the career for them, they might wriggle less on identity in future and look for other ways of denying wrong doing.

Drones won’t replace officers on the street but they might replace most of the helicopters, and bring more overhead surveillance into play. Current UAV technology is pretty flaky, there are a lot of crashes, but it will improve. I can see a range of uses and sizes for drones. One particular one that might appear over busy crowds is a chaser. Small with 360 cameras, a speaker and a taser it could track a fleeing suspect through a crowd where a human would lose them. It would need to be small enough to fly through doorways etc. The speaker is for warning the suspect to stop and await arrest.  The taser is backup if the speaker doesn’t do the trick.

Thoughts or observations welcome in the comments below.