digital community

Policing with the Digital Community

The recent Next Generation Community Policing conference – organised by a group of 9 community policing-focused Horizon2020 projects – was an opportunity to showcase research findings emerging from MEDI@4SEC. I t was also another opportunity to exchange views with and draw on the expertise of an impressive audience of experts and practitioners, including representatives from EUROPOL and INTERPOL and leading figures from the academic community.

The focus of our contribution – a paper entitled ‘Do-it-yourself policing and the digital disruption of contemporary policing’ – outlined our analysis of the implications for policing of the increasing trend towards citizen-led and digitally-driven security initiatives. Community policing policy in the EU often involves the adoption of a ‘strategy of responsibilisation’, which encourages citizens to ‘take on the management of security rather than abdicating it solely to police’. As such this strategy aims to reduce the gap between increasing public expectations of security and the limited capacity of the police to deliver.

Yet there is growing evidence that citizens are already taking responsibility for public security spontaneously and proactively, without either the encouragement or even the awareness of the police. These citizen initiatives are not taking place in communities and neighbourhoods, but in the digital realm. The exponential growth of digital tools and platforms in recent years has provided citizens with ever-increasing opportunities to take responsibility for their own security. From tracking down stolen bicycles and mobile phones, to crowdsourcing identifications of criminals and naming and shaming offenders on social media, citizens are today defining and pursuing their own public security agendas, taking policing into their own hands.

The impacts of some of these activities on public security are already transformative. For example, in the UK the activities of self-styled online paedophile hunters has both boosted the number and changed the profile of grooming-related cases brought to court: in 2016, evidence provided by such groups was presented in just under half (46%) of all trials of individuals charged with the crime of meeting a child after sexual grooming.

What we would like to explore further is how this ‘digital disruption’ of policing is blurring longstanding distinctions between the roles of citizen and police, and what police should do about it. Questions arising include: What is the proper distinction between the rights and responsibilities of citizens with respect to public security and those of police?; What are the implications for public security and criminal justice of an emerging role of ‘citizen-police’?.

A ‘reinvigorated active citizenship’ is often presented as a win-win strategy to more efficient and legitimate policing. By helping to make their communities safer, citizens both help to free up police resources thus enabling police to focus on more serious threats to security and build social capital by forming new collaborative partnerships between communities and the state. What is more, the ‘responsibilization’ of citizens is promoted as inherently democratizing, encouraging citizens to help set and pursue the public security agenda and thereby advancing a ‘new model of participatory liberal democracy, which gives a voice to pluralism and diversity’.

But DIY policing brings potential costs as well as benefits, in particular in terms of the transparency, accountability, and fairness of criminal justice. We provide suggestions for how these can be addressed by more proactive and closer police engagement with DIY policing groups and what role the research community should play in supporting this.

The issues explored in our paper continue to be relevant to everyday policing and security. The questions we have raised provide an opportunity for you as staekholders to reflect on your experiences and share them with fellow practioners. You can do this in the comments section below, by contributing to a discussion in our LinkedIn group or by contacting the project directly. The input of the MEDI@4SEC community into the research for this paper is vital, and we invite and welcome comments, suggestions, and questions.

A full draft of the paper will soon be sharable. If you are interested in receiving a copy, commenting, or hearing more about it, please email Dr Kat Hadjimatheou.

Dr Kat Hadjimatheou

University of Warwick

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