Evolving Capabilities and Advancing Public Safety
At the Transforming Emergency Service Organisations through Collaboration and Leadership virtual event as part of the Public Sector Network Defence, Security and Justice National Insights, we heard from Jodie Pearson, Superintendent, Western Australia Police Force and Janelle Baily, Assistant Director, Data Science and Analytics, Western Australia Police Force as they dived into policing in a technology enabled future. In this article they explore:
- Interactive discussion on issues and future challenges
- Intelligence led policing and the future of crime investigation
- How new technology is changing emergency response
Changing the status quo for the police in WA
Police forces, like all security forces, need to be armed with the most modern technology and equipment in order to best protect their communities. But keeping up with the latest resources is not always possible, especially in a state like Western Australia. Jodie Pearson , a Superintendent in the WA Police Force, says that in the last couple of years, they have really changed their focus to “enhance our technology and capability to support frontline policing operations, and to provide adequate resourcing to resolve incidents really quickly.” This is particularly important because of the size of their state. Not only is it known to be large, but at “2.6 million km², it is the largest single policing jurisdiction in the world.” It is also very diverse, with “15 police districts, eight of them in regional areas.” Altogether, this amounts to “150 police stations, over 7,000 police officers and over 2,500 public servants assisting the force.”
Given the distances and the scope of their reach, which includes a number of very remote communities, all they are really trying to do is to “address some of the fundamental policing principles, which are pretty simple things: We want to respond quickly when the community calls us for help, and we want to resolve their critical incidents quickly.” The intention is to have the same “proficient and consistent” response times, irrespective of where in WA the matter is, and what the circumstances are.
To get to that point, since 2019, “we’ve tried to change the status quo in Western Australia.” That began with the issuance of mobile devices. Though many people had personal mobile phones, “we were probably one of the last jurisdictions in the country to actually provide a mobile device to our frontline personnel.” By late December 2019, all police officers finally had an Apple iPhone S11. Most of these are now only two years old but “we are going through a refresh program at the moment.” Either way, that was a game changer and “a real launching pad for us.” For many officers, this was the first time they had access to a smart phone, so “we encouraged them to download their banking and footy tipping apps to get them to adopt mobility as one of their core tools.”
To get to that kind of mobility, “we have to harness and utilise all of the data that we have available to us.” This also meant “doing proactive policing, which means using some more complex analytics to join the dots from the data by looking at the data in different ways.” For instance, since the start of the pandemic, the price of methamphetamines in WA in particular has more than doubled, and the hard border has meant that it is much more difficult to acquire. Thus there have been a lot fewer drug incidents in WA since the start of the pandemic. Therefore, even after COVID-19, “we’re looking at technology resolutions to create a virtual hard border in the state.” In reality, this means the creation of a number of “digital policing initiatives,” or apps, that have come into effect since late 2019, including:
- One Force Core – “We don’t have to return to the vehicle. We can provide updates via the mobile and can dispatch via the phone.”
- One Force Locate – “An app that allows us to see where every single police officer is,” based on where the phone is. This has become really useful at night when police have to jump fences to apprehend a suspect, for example. “Traditionally, if you’ve jumped a few fences at night, it’s really hard to keep track of where you are and to get back up. But now we actually have the ability to see our offices in real-time wherever they are.”
- Hey Sarge – “An app where we provide policy and guidance for those kind of jobs where there’s a lot of processing of policy involved.” This can be particularly useful for new officers in the field.
- Near Me for Cops – “An app which provides situational awareness for police services on the road,” allowing officers to “see where licensed firearm holders are,” as an example.
- Bail Reporting Kiosk – Previously for everyone that needed to report to a station when they were out on bail, it was “a manual process,” and occasionally “high harm offenders were not reporting because we didn’t have a centralised system for that.” Now with the app, all on bail are visible, and “if there’s a breach, we can jump on it to prevent reoffending.”
- One Force Curfew – “An app that’s designed to enhance curfew checking for high harm offenders.”
- Family Violence App – This includes a “best practice risk assessment tool for frontline officers.”
These are the apps that already exist, with “more still in development.” Some of these include better “in-car integration,” to stop officers from “getting car sick looking down at their phones, or having the screens being too small.” The new integrations will appear on larger screens in the car “to resolve a lot of those issues.” The second development is a “refresh of our body-worn cameras, with live video streaming back to the State Operations Command Centre, when required,” with potentially experts at the Centre providing advice or guidance for challenging cases or circumstances. Ultimately, at the end of the day, “all the principles, all the technology and all the capability are designed to be aligned in order to resolve community incidents.” This wasn’t the case before. Now, “we realised that unless we changed how we collected and visualised our data, we were going to get the same results that we always were getting.”
Responding better to the community
Changing things within the police force meant not only developing new apps, but doing things in different ways. Janelle Baily , the Assistant Director for Data Science and Analytics at the WA Police Force, says that previously, the force focussed “on doing everything individually-based, and it was quite a manual effort.” This was especially the case when it came to data entry and analysis. Previously, many of the results that the force was able to achieve “were outstanding, but they were very manual and dependent on the person who was using their data skills.” Many of the dots were not being joined, and because of the way the systems were set up, things were being missed. Naturally, it was also “a very siloed approach.”
The new way of working is all about “improving interagency collaboration and having a multi-agency triage approach.” For instance, a police officer may be the only one on the scene of a crime. Once the body-worn cameras are operational and linked back to the command centre in real-time, other agencies will also be able to see the footage and may then send an ambulance, or back up or some other service. It means the police won’t be working by themselves and there will be “a response from all of us together.” It also means uniformed police working in lock-step with detectives and public servants.
To achieve this, a new report and dashboard was created, where “all our data is visible. We’ve now morphed those into a lot of different visualisations for the frontline officers to really help them focus their efforts, and to make sure that they can solve crimes faster and keep the community safe.”
Jodie Pearson says that as much as collaborations are internal, there is now also a concerted effort to work more with the “whole-of-government across our partner agencies and departments.” The WA Police Force is also working with universities to assist with some of the analysis of data. The idea is to “create that virtual hard border” by getting the most out of all of the data. “Collaborating internally has proven to be incredible for us. We’re now really going to expand that into the future and partner with others too, for the best outcome for the community.”