A rural police car. Source: Vauxford (via Wikimedia Commons)
Policing and Justice Social Policy

The future of post-COVID policing

I’ve found myself talking a lot recently about the opportunity for positive change arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst of course, these opportunities in no-way compensate for the trauma the nation has endured for the past five months, the positive impact from some unintentional consequences, are undeniable writes Hannah Jarvis.

From the environment and the all-time low in emissions pollution – thanks to so many cars being off the roads, to the way our communities have galvanized; the like of which has not been seen since World War Two. We have a moral obligation to attempt to maintain these positives, in order to try to mitigate some of the damage from COVID and indeed, there is real opportunity to completely rethink the way we go about business in many areas.

Of course, as a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) candidate, the area that springs to my mind, is policing.

The pandemic has presented no small challenge to our police forces. Whilst crimes such as burglary and assault have seen a dramatic reduction, sadly statistics for domestic violence make for grim reading. And of course, policing lockdown measures were an exceptional challenge, with no trial or precedent to fall back upon.

I’ve observed with interest what resources have been made available by PCCs to their forces. PCCs have responsibility for commissioning services, including local victim support services. Many have collaborated with domestic abuse charities and given extra funds to them and other victim support services. Whilst these responses have been welcome and delivered what was critical in an exceptional scenario, it has made me wonder how we progress our approach to policing, into something smarter and more adaptable.

Cybercrime is one of, if not the biggest challenge facing modern policing. From home-grown small time phishing scams to terrorism-funding identity theft, not to mention the dark web. It’s an area notoriously difficult to prosecute because of a lack of evidence. One emerging solution to tackling this, however, I firmly believe lies with the use of ‘digital dogs’.

First pioneered in the UK by Devon and Cornwall Police, to great success and now used by four police forces in the UK; these dogs undergo extensive training to learn to sniff out electronic data devices as small as USB sticks and SD cards.

The small number of digital dogs are very much proving their worth and have been used in warrants throughout the UK, in high-profile cases involving fraud, terrorism and child sex offences. This is exactly the sort of progressive policing I think is needed and I would not hesitate to commission one for Gwent as PCC

Rural crime is another very challenging area of policing and particularly pertinent to Gwent. Criminals exploit the remoteness of farms, knowing in certain areas, they can commit crime largely unhindered, because of the time it can take for a police vehicle to reach a farm, as well as the often difficult off-road terrain.

I feel very strongly that we must regain the trust of our rural communities, especially with the exceptional challenges farmers have faced in lockdown. It’s critical we end the isolation felt by much of the farming community. The Rural Crime Team here in Gwent does a fantastic job, with the use of off-road vehicles, but with greater investment in the force’s drone capability and training more officers to fly them, they’re surely a ‘no-brainer’ in terms of evidence gathering, tracking suspects and as a deterrent.

When I served in Iraq in 2007, British forces were in the early days of developing their UAV capability. David Cameron recognised their value as a military asset and in 2015 hugely increased the UK military’s drone fleet. In doing so, he completely changed the nature of warfare for British forces, undoubtedly saving the lives of many soldiers. Although the role of drones differs somewhat in policing, I think their greater use will also completely change the way we police in future.

I am asked time and time again about ‘bobbies on the beat’. I understand what a comfort the sight of a police officer is to someone who feels like a prisoner in their own home because of anti-social behaviour for instance. And yes, in many scenarios there is no substitute for a physical police presence. However, the time has come to adopt a more forward thinking and technologically advanced approach to policing and for as long as criminals come up with innovative ways to break the law and sow misery, we must find innovative ways to stop them.

Hannah Jarvis is the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner candidate for Gwent.

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