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More precision please: Can the Met bring community policing and data science together?

"The strongest ever neighbourhood policing" - MPS Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley

It was no coincidence that MPS Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley chose London’s Institute of Engineering and Technology as the venue for a speech last week, putting the first flesh on the bones of his plan to deliver “more trust, less crime, and high standards”, by reforming the Met. Among the eye-catching pledges: “the strongest ever neighbourhood policing”, a new Met leadership academy, and an intensification of proactive public protection work, one word cut through: precision.

Precision is of course what engineers do. It’s about using science, data, and analytics to solve complex problems and make people’s lives better. It’s also about efficiency: achieving maximum impact without wasted effort (particularly useful when resources are tight), and it is something that technology promises to make ever more achievable. So, you can see why it appeals, and why the Commissioner has brought in Professor Lawrence Sherman – the founding father of Evidence Based Policing – to sharpen up the Met’s scientific and analytical edge.

But Rowley doesn’t just want to make the Met smarter, he is promising “precise community crime-fighting” (a phrase I suspect we will hear much more of in coming months), and while the combined rhetorical weight of those three terms is considerable, we are justified in asking what exactly they mean when brought together to describe a coherent policing strategy. After all, ‘community’, in the context of policing, tends to conjure up rather fuzzy ‘analogue’ images of beat bobbies and community halls – important certainly, reassuring maybe, but precise?

For insight, its instructive to turn to New York – a global city, like London in many respects, but (as Rowley pointed out) with more cops and more murders – where from 2014, Commissioner Bill Bratton brought in Precision Policing as an explicit response to the “Great Divide”: the critical deterioration in relations between American law enforcement and the Black community (in particular) that opened up that summer following the police killings of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri.

According to Bratton and his NYPD colleague Jon Murad, Precision Policing is: “an organizing principle, to ensure that police work with the community in ways that add up to police legitimacy… It ensures that police use connectivity more than enforcement; but when enforcement is necessary, it is accurately and narrowly directed”.

Copyright: The Police Foundation

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