Global progressive policing

Leadership Challenges in Police Education: Digitalisation/cyber, violence against women and girls, and policing disorder

5th International Police Education Conference

The London Policing College 5th International Conference Nov 2023 is focused on the leadership challenges for police education considering specifically the digitalisation of policing, violence against women and girls, and the response to tactical changes in public demonstrations and disorder. How to manage the transition to a new digital model for policing and its implications for leadership in the law enforcement sector set against lower levels of trust and confidence and challenges to performance.

The key objectives of the London Policing Conference 2023 are:

  • Enhance and explore understanding of the role of leadership in the digital transformation of policing.
  • Explore innovative approaches and technologies that enhance public safety and security.
  • Address the challenges and opportunities in combating violence against women and girls.
  • Examine strategies for maintaining public order and harmony in the face of evolving societal dynamics.
  • Promoting collaboration and knowledge exchange among stakeholders in the field of law enforcement.

The changing face of policing

Policing has changed beyond recognition through many factors including the growth of cyber and digital enabled devices, changes in technology more widely, a global change of focus from acquisitive crime towards violence, and particularly the impact that violence has on women and girls.

The starting point, how did we get here with the changes within policing context in the last five or ten years? In retrospect it has changed beyond recognition through many factors including the growth of cyber and digital enabled devices, changes in technology more widely, a global change of focus from acquisitive crime towards violence, and particularly the impact that violence has on women and girls. Demonstration paradigms aligned with issues and nationality have seen a growth of terrorism and warfare at one extreme and wider civil disobedience at the other. With which were primarily driven by the causes of small minorities developing to spread into causes that cover multiple nations, continents and across the world.

In the last few years, the advent of worldwide concern on environmental issues such as global warming, the impact of single use plastics, and poor air quality on health have created movements which have looked to change the world. These changes have extended the base of those involved in demonstrations from small, concerned groups and individuals in localities campaigning for change. It is now whole elements of communities which stretch across the world connecting them to Campaign for Change.

These have all happened in the last five to 10 years and with them policing has changed, the priorities have changed and of course, within the last three years we had COVID, changing the police role dramatically. All of that has had a wide and negative impact on the officers who are struggling to deliver the service the public expect. The scope of their role changing almost daily, the requirements on them not just to work in a way that they learned, but to adapt, continuing to learn new ways of doing things and all that with a lack of clarity of their role. As many new tasks are added and priorities changed, the level of pressure and frustration and quite frankly unrealistic expectation has increased. Whilst the majority have resolutely tried to adapt, and most continue to succeed brilliantly at achieving the new requirements, the continual scandal and commentary, the lack of resources and the increased demand seem likely to lead to burn out and risk further service failures.

5th International Police Education ConferenceTechnology

Underpinning these issues is technology, which we are taking for granted, but which affects every part of our lives. The paradigms of digital and cyber technology, the common use of highly sophisticated mass communication devices and the widespread ability to record incidents on mobile phones and CCTV, have brought crime out of the shadows and into the forefront of people’s lives and police actions and behaviours into people’s living rooms.


This has come together to lead us to a point where things are significantly challenged and require re-evaluation. The London Policing Conference will be asking the questions about what do those challenges mean and where might the future go. The London Policing Conference will consider the role of the police and what do we actually want. We often talk about crime reduction as the number one priority and then we move over to police detections, then it is police arrival at scenes and then it’s demand management and trying to keep things as cheap as possible to make budgets work.

Opportunist and organised crime

The London Policing Conference recognises there are two types of perspectives about crime and criminalities and the police’s role to address them.

The London Policing Conference recognises there are two types of perspectives about crime and criminalities and the police’s role to address them.

We have the opportunist. The person who just comes across something and commits a crime on the spur of a moment, they didn’t necessarily have it in their mind at all that they would commit a crime on a particular day, but for whatever reason, they decide that it is what they’re going to do, and the opportunity arises in front of them. Then there are the organised criminals, the people who decide to commit a crime and plan their actions. They manoeuvre things to a position where they achieve their goals and then reap the rewards of their criminality.  those two broad approaches have several theoretical perspectives, the opportunist thought of in terms of routine activity theory, suggesting vulnerability of victims or property, motivation of offenders, and gaps in guardianship increase the risks of crime. There are many sub theories, but this high-level description of crime is often thought of as the reason behind 80% of crime.

The remaining 20% being more organised criminalities and this, from a theoretical perspective, would be described as rational choice theory and the sub theories that sit beneath it. This area sees criminals as active rationale participants who balance up the potential gains with the possible risk of a particular course of action. When the gain is greater than the risk, there comes a point where people who are suitably motivated will commit crime.

These two broad approaches are interesting because historically we would have thought of opportunist crime as making up most crime, the thefts, motor vehicle crime, shoplifting, the person who just happens to see something that they can do and get away with. More widely this includes the person who feels that they can make certain comments because there is nobody else around to judge them for their misogynistic or racist views. That opportunist element was the larger element of crime and the organised element far smaller. I’d like to suggest now this is less the case. Many opportunities for crime have been reduced. They’ve been reduced by things like CCTV and people having video on their phone, recording things as they happen, industry approaches to prevention, like the Thatcham approach making vehicles harder to steal, and general property hardening through locks etc

5th International Police Education ConferenceThe ‘opportunist’s’ opportunity in the physical world to commit crime may have been reduced and crime come down, but organised criminals are still there, and they are still behaving in the same way. What we’ve seen with the opportunist criminal, the person who thinks they can deal with things, is that they have moved into a new arena, into the digital world. Increasing the incidents and risks of fraud and deception, cyber bullying, the use of digital platforms for promotion of racist and other extremist views. They have moved into an area where there is no suitable guardianship, where people can more or less do what they want.  If anybody has any control over it, it is a private company who is making money out of people using the platform.

Things are happening around opportunist crime for organised criminals, because in the same space there are more options for them to commit crime. They can plan things in a different way, and as opportunities for fraud increase, people are planning fraud in a different way. If you can use a computer to steal a few pounds from many thousand people, you’re less likely to raise any awareness of your actions. If the police become involved by a victim coming forward to raise an issue, they may decide the resource requirement for such a small crime makes it unlikely to lead to a prosecution and so a waste of resources, making it difficult to deal with and justify action. Prosecutions need more evidence of multiple connected crimes, requiring higher skilled investigators and of course often involving people working across jurisdictional boundaries. The outcome is organised criminality taking an opportunist element because of some of the digital factors that are around. Both have changed and both have developed and policing now has to deal with that different world.

Scandals in policing

The London Policing Conference will look at some of the challenges that have come from scandals in policing, they are similarly affected by these changes. In the past there may well have been individuals who had a conversation with other police officers which was considered  racist, misogynistic or homophobic.

The London Policing Conference will look at some of the challenges that have come from scandals in policing, they are similarly affected by these changes.

In many cases the other people around them would have told them to grow up, behave, shut up and get on with life. Nowadays the echo chamber of other people in a digital environment who have similar views has enabled those people to have those conversations and for those conversations to grow and for them not to be challenged and therefore to be seen as a way of behaving. That has created a whole series of issues which are under the radar, completely unseen by most people, and which urgently need to be addressed.

At the same time some of the problems associated with the police use of discretion and which have been embedded in policing in the UK and internationally are becoming harder to refute as data clearly shows differential in terms of outcomes, video recordings (including body worn video) show officers use of force and underline the argument that there is disproportionate use of force on certain communities. Suddenly things that were ignored in the past or if not ignored, not completely addressed, and brushed under the carpet, are now visible, supported by undeniable evidence and have the public and official enquiries demanding action.

Digital evidence

As we’ve had these changes in crime, the changes in digital evidential opportunities are challenging the concept of what is private and what is public. Historically, conversations between two people have been private. It’s been enshrined in law specifically regarding telecommunications where eavesdropping when two people think they are just talking in private is protected. With the advent of social media many conversations are now not private, they are accessible to many people. We have seeing people thinking they are in private when in fact they are in a public position. We see private conversations being used evidentially supporting police investigations and investigators using digital evidence to monitor criminality, to see where criminals are going, what they are discussing, and which can provide clear evidence of their mens rea. Before mobile phones you couldn’t track a criminal other than by physically following them, now we have the ability through GPS and cell site analysis to see where people are going, to investigate both in real time and retrospectively.

The London Policing Conference will examine this movement into the digital world which has given the police and the public great opportunities which paradoxically have created a whole series of new conundrums to deal with.

This has provided great insight to address criminality, but also into victims. That insight has been used in a way which can be detrimental to them as individuals as well as within the case, as conversations and behaviours that they have in one part of their life are exposed and used as evidence to undermine their evidence. The way digital evidence is presented it appears as if thoughts, desires, and expectations remain static. Lives are not like that we are all making many changes to our thinking on a daily even hourly basis so producing evidence of thinking on one occasion should not mean that this is the way we always think. Expecting historic and current thinking to be consistent can bring doubt on a victim’s mind set and from an evidential perspective cast doubt on what people mean when they say things.

That has changed drastically our approach to criminal investigation in several ways. Firstly, it’s enhanced our capabilities to investigate crime and criminals. Secondly, it’s meant that investigators now must consider a very large amount of data. They must analyse it to identify if it points towards a suspect’s guilt or towards their innocence. The result more complex investigations and extensive case papers for a whole range of crimes. Not only the most serious cases, as was the case a few years ago, now disclosure of this type of evidence and the analysis of what the data tells us is getting more and more complex and required at a more general level. This data is not always simple to understand, requiring new skills, not only of capture and seizure, but also of analysis and presentation of that data in a way that is useful for a court.

The London Policing Conference will examine this movement into the digital world which has given the police and the public great opportunities which paradoxically have created a whole series of new conundrums to deal with. One of the big ones is just because we can do something doesn’t necessarily mean we should do it. This ethical dilemma of how far an investigation should go, what is appropriate for a particular crime, what is appropriate for a particular offender and victim. These are big questions of proportionality that we are expecting officers to make, and we’re expecting them to make them within a framework of a constantly changing environment of capability.

Higher expectations for officers

We are expecting considerably more of our officers, to do things which quite often nowadays are not going to lead to a prosecution and to do that in a performance framework which always looks to conviction rates and a resources position which has been challenging for many years. For instance, the move into fraud has allowed people to commit crime from one country in another country. Cross jurisdictional prosecutions and operations are particularly difficult, hard to coordinate and expensive. At the end of all of that there is little evidence they routinely address the problems and crime.  In this world of new investigative possibilities and ethical challenges there is developing a requirement for a step change in police actions to meet public expectations on performance, effectiveness, and behaviour. Many of those expectations are based upon a historic world view of what is possible which asks the question whether the police can do the things that we are asking of them.

5th International Police Education Conference

The solution often put forward is to define these as problems of the private companies, the social media platforms, the financial institutions, the people who run these systems. To require them to deal with them, that may well be appropriate in terms of prevention but in our current model it means we are pushing most of criminal management away from a state organised criminal justice system and legislature. Fundamentally shifting the meaning of what the police are and what the police do. We are asking businesses to address these where their priority is to balance their bottom lines ethically and legally on behalf of their shareholders. The requirement to protect victims of crime, detect offenders and bring them to justice are fundamentally different goals.

One solution in these areas may come from the hacking fraternity who see their role to expose information and corruption. The ethical hacker being a person who identifies wrongdoing and acts could provide a model for postmodern policing where the police and the community working together determine appropriate behaviour and how it should be dealt with rather than the police trying to do that with the courts.

That would be a radical and fundamental shift with considerable risk and issues and the question our conference intends to consider is what the next version of the police should look like. If based upon uniform patrol officers, will prosecution hold such paramount importance, or will it be one that considers new ways of addressing criminality. Criminal active online or in the metaverse might be addressed on military lines with approaches to destabilise combatants thorough denying them service to digital devices. Are there ways of controlling people differently bringing online behaviour into the public view and so subject to guardianship and surveillance.

The big issues

The London Policing Conference will consider some of the big issues for policing today and I from my perspective think they are massively significant to society. They can be played down as just a phase, but I would argue they are similar in scale and impact as the changes when the constable became ineffective in an industrial society. I think we need to ask the blunt question whether the police in the current format are suitable for a digital world, and if not, what might a new arrangement look like.

The London Policing Conference will consider some of the big issues for policing today and I from my perspective think they are massively significant to society.

The conference will consider in depth the issues of cybersecurity from an individual, organisational and societal perspective. The significant change which must be made in what we access and do in the digital world and how we understand and use the information within it. It will do this by looking at:

  • The development of demonstrations based upon open information and greater understanding of the impact that we are having on the environment, each other, and the future. How can we enhance communication to reduce conflict in demonstrations.
  • The growth of coercive control using digital devices and how this can be tackled through greater understanding of cyber security. How can violence against women and girls be addressed through greater, safer use of technology and digital communications.
  • The opportunities threats and ethical challenges of greater digitalisation and AI in our lives and investigations. The decision-making process and the skills officers need to be able to investigate digital and cybercrimes.

The conference intends to share practice on how people are dealing with these issues now and help practitioners consider their role. We have brought together a series of speakers who are practically dealing with these issues now, both in the UK and through our international network, and we will work to provide genuine frontline ideas and solutions as well as raise the issue of cybersecurity and policing into the spotlight.

Click here to find out more and register for the workshops and the conference

5th International Police Education Conference

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