Digitally enabled public safety: Harnessing the power of tech to tackle violent crime

Foreword | Julian David, CEO, techUK

What is violent crime?

Violent crime refers to a “high harm” category of offences perpetrated against a person, including the use of (or threat of use of) force and may involve the use of weapons, including “firearms, knives and corrosive substances”. Violent crime includes murder, manslaughter, robbery, assault and gun and knife crime.

The picture of violent crime in the UK

While changes in reporting and recording practices have likely had an impact on the statistical picture of violent crime, recent ONS Crime Statistics reflect a “genuine” increase in instances of murder, knife and gun crime. These statistics also corroborate with data from the NHS regarding injuries reported as a result of stabbings and shootings.

“The picture of crime is a complex one. Overall levels of crime have remained steady, but this is not the case for all types of crime. For example, overall levels of violence have remained steady, but we have seen increases in violent crimes involving knives and sharp instruments.”

- Mark Bangs, ONS Centre for Crime and Justice

Specifically, the latest figures (reporting period ending March 2019) reflected an 8 per cent increase in “offences involving a knife or sharp instrument” and a 3 per cent increase in recorded offences that involved firearms. This is reflected in the recent New Local Government Network Leadership Index, which highlights that local authorities also report increasing trends of violent youth crime, with “anti-social behaviour, drug offences and gang-linked violence” listed as “the offences that have risen most sharply over the last five years.”

Public perception of violent crime

As a result of the changing landscape, public perception and concern over crime in the UK is growing. In April 2019 YouGov polls indicated that, for the first time since 2017, “crime is now the second biggest issue facing Britain, after Brexit”. This change is significant as previously “health” had consistently been ranked as the second biggest issue for public concern.

What is the Government doing?

The Government’s approach to tackling violent crime has been varied in scope and success. We have seen the release of a Serious Violence Strategy, characteristics of a public health approach, awareness campaigns and initiatives, as well as a “tough on crime” rhetoric. The recruitment drive for 20,000 new police officers is also intended to play a part in addressing incidents of violent crime by providing more resources and increasing police visibility. Within this there have been calls for this drive to enable forces to “bolster numbers on both the physical and digital beat.”

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners last year committed to supporting collaborative “working with the Home Office and local partners” to contribute to efforts to address violent crime.

“Police and Crime Commissioners have a strong record of working closely with local partners in health, education, local government, businesses and charities, to meet the public’s priorities in policing and crime.”

- David Lloyd, Chair of Association of Police & Crime Commissioners

Where does the tech sector come in?

The tech sector has an important role to play in supporting the efforts of the public sector, from enabling preventative action and education, to interaction with the public safety and criminal justice ecosystem.

This report aims to highlight the important role that tech can have in providing tools and solutions to tackling this public safety challenge. It highlights a series of case studies from across the wider public safety and criminal justice ecosystem, demonstrating the good that technology can deliver when deployed throughout the process of delivering public safety outcomes.

Role for tech

The UK’s public safety and criminal justice agencies are already working beyond their means to address violent crime. From being under resourced to facing an increasingly complex and changing landscape of criminal activity, our emergency services in particular face being overwhelmed by rising and changing demand for their services.

Technology has the potential to enable the improvement of collaborative working, more intelligent, evidence-based decision-making, crucial time-saving efficiencies and addressing problem scenarios that all contribute to addressing the challenge of violent crime. The following case studies highlight some of the important work that techUK members are doing with our critical public safety and criminal justice services, and ultimately to delivering improved citizen safety outcomes.

1. Enabling improved collaboration and multi-agency working

“Now more than ever policing has an appetite to collaborate, and to stretch further than across force boundaries, looking outwards to include other partners such as local authorities and the private sector. Technology is a tool that can enable such collaboration, through interoperability and convergence.”

- Commissioner Ian Dyson QPM, City of London Police and Chair of IMORCC (Information Management & Operational Requirements Coordination Committee)

Collaboration is a fundamental aspect of the current and future state of public safety and criminal justice service delivery. This has been repeatedly reflected through high profile tragic incidents, inquests, reviews, reports, but now is the time for action.

The tech sector plays a critical role in enabling more collaborative working within the public sector, including organisations and agencies that have not traditionally had a public safety remit.

Tools that enable multi-agency working, with a view to cutting across organisational boundaries and bring together decision-makers and operations are already in use in to support the delivery of public safety services to tackle violent crime.

Case Study: Optimising the use of specialist policing using digital technology.

Provided by Informed Solutions

UK policing is continuously faced with evolving threats and operational challenges, and IT services must be able to quickly transform to support police operations. National Police Coordination Centre (NPoCC) uses the Mercury digital platform to manage and coordinate police mutual aid requests between nine police regions and 46 police forces, supporting forces in meeting demand during large scale events, special operations, and in times of national crisis.

Originally conceived as support for policing the 2012 Olympic Games in London, enabling additional resources from police forces outside the capital to be identified and mobilised quickly in response to an incident, it was retained following the Olympics and is now being continuously improved in line with feedback from forces across the country. Looking ahead, the existing Mercury platform is being transformed into a National Police Data Hub that utilises enhanced data loading APIs, automated data validation, and analytical capabilities to allow police forces to better undertake strategic and tactical planning and reporting.

New dashboarding capabilities have been developed by integrating Alteryx and Tableau components into Mercury, allowing NPoCC to further visualise and analyse its core strategic data.

Changes to services can quickly be built, tested, and released using an automated DevOps Continuous Integration and Deployment Pipeline that operates within a PSN-P compliant environment.

Read the full case study.

Case Study: Building trusted collaboration through access managed information and knowledge sharing.

Provided by Surevine

Under the remit of the Government’s Online Harms initiative, the challenge was to bring together Government departments, academia, big industry players and key charities to share challenges, research, best practice and existing/planned technology relating to the prevent of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (CSEA). How could we give such a disparate group of organisations a digital space in which they can share information securely within this very emotive and sensitive domain?

Drawing on cross-organisational cyber-security incident sharing, we built a UK-hosted secure digital environment in which members could upload documents, co-create content, have discussions, publish informal blog posts, run polls and, as individuals, build an online profile to allow others to easily discover their interests, expertise and challenges. All content can be marked with a simple handling label that determines whether the content can be shared across the platform, only within a group or, most restrictively, only between named individuals. This labelling standard, known as the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP), supports the need for users to iteratively build trust in the community and have confidence that the distribution of their contributions is appropriately controlled. A key feature of the technology solution is an analytics platform that allows the project team to track user journeys and establish key metrics.

As well as the technology platform, which iteratively evolved over the pilot as requirements emerged, a key output was the associated user research and particularly the basis of a community management strategy, a critical element to building a successful digital community.

Read the full case study.

2. Intelligent decision making

The rise of digital technologies has impacted almost every aspect of our lives and is having a transformative impact on the delivery of public services, including safety and criminal justice.

Tech tools and solutions are already in use across the public safety and criminal justice system that enable more efficient and intelligent use of data, whether that be through analysis, management, storage or sharing. These tools and solutions work to ensure that our critical public safety agencies are equipped to maximise the value that data can provide, making more intelligent, efficient decisions.

Case Study: The National ANPR Service as a tool to tackle violent crime.

Provided by Leonardo

Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology is widely deployed across the UK for policing purposes, enabling collation of an extensive dataset that is heavily used in both proactive and reactive policing activity. Data is collected and analysed in accordance with strict data protection and proportionality principles in compliance with legislation.

Unique in the UK scenario is the availability of a national dataset allowing correlation of vehicle registration marks (VRMs) with make, model and colour data. This provides a rich and powerful dataset which can be used in support of investigations into serious and violent crime.

The Home Office is currently deploying a new National ANPR Service (NAS), based on Leonardo software, which will integrate ANPR analytic and real-time monitoring functions into a single national service available to Police Forces and other Law Enforcement Agencies. Initially supplementing, and in due course replacing local facilities, NAS will enable police and law enforcement to act on national scale information to solve crime.

ANPR is at its most powerful looking at complex criminal scenarios such as county lines drug running, closely associated with high levels of knife crime; the actions of criminal gangs who are highly likely to use violence to achieve their aims and has obvious application in Counter Terrorism. Analysis of ANPR data allows targeted policing responses that allow efficient deployment of resources, thus maximising safety of the public and officers.

Read the full case study.

Case Study: Next generation data fusion for children’s safety.

Provided by BAE Systems

Child protection investigations are amongst the highest risk and challenging of those which take place across law enforcement, health and social care. Widespread and complex to investigate, they require time and expertise from multiple agencies, and threaten serious and potentially life-changing consequences for the victims.

At the same time, the child protection and safeguarding landscape is fragmented. Information relating to risk and harm around children is spread across many agencies, making it difficult to see the whole picture. Numerous reviews have also highlighted poor data sharing amongst agencies.

Pressure is increasing on already-stretched child protection professionals – which is where BAE Systems Applied Intelligence came in.

Teaming up with Gloucestershire’s police and social services, we redeployed technology typically used to detect fraudsters in financial institutions and brought together data from across multiple agencies automatically. This created a complete picture of activities and information relating to a child at risk. Algorithms were then applied to identify over 100 indicators of risk, before presenting the findings back to the experts for their review.

Over a 12 week pilot project, we:

  • Analysed three years’ worth of data in just four hours
  • Reduced the review time for a referral from 150 minutes to just 15 minutes
  • Developed a new operating model which put data and analytics at the heart of child protection
  • Identified a gang, despite this not being the focus of the project – opening up the exciting possibility of pivoting to other threats in the future, such as violent crime and county lines.

This new system enables all the pieces of the puzzle to connect together and can help keep children happy, healthy and safe – now and in the months and years to come. Watch 'Molly's Puzzle - How data fusion can protect children.'

Read the full case study.

3. Crucial time-saving efficiencies

Efficiency in service delivery is a key objective for the emergency services as the incidents they are tasked with responding to are often time sensitive. Improving response times is a demonstrable benefit that technology can deliver by enabling smoother processes and simpler working for emergency services workers. From the initial call, to the command and control room, to locating the incident and tracking and managing people and assets, tech is increasingly providing useful tools to support our emergency services and in turn respond to and address incidents of violent crime.

Case Study: Evidence transfer solution for an enhanced journey through the criminal justice system.

Provided by Egress

The Crown Prosecution Service is the principal agency in England and Wales responsible for ensuring the right people are prosecuted and brought to justice for criminal offences. In 2017/18, the CPS experienced an 84 per cent conviction rate on more than 530,000 cases, with each requiring a strong foundation of casework and evidence.

When investigating a reported crime, the police service(s) involved will collect evidence from the scene, including multimedia files, such as CCTV and mobile phone videos. Over recent years, this process has become highly digitised.

Traditionally, the transfer of this highly sensitive digital data from the police to the CPS has relied on CD / DVD discs that are couriered or hand-delivered by police officers. At the height of using CDs / DVDs to transfer evidence, the CPS was handling over 500,000 discs.

In September 2016, the CPS began work to resolve the data protection and efficiency issues this caused.

The CPS had specific security requirements to protect highly sensitive data, but also needed to ensure the solution chosen would be easy for staff and partners to use and could cope with the large volume of data our casework relies on.

Having undergone a thorough product evaluation, CPS selected Egress Secure Workspace. Moving away from CDs / DVDs was a major process change for the CPS and its partners. However, significant security and efficiency improvements have proven it was the right choice to make.

Since using Secure Workspace, approximately 1TB of data per day is uploaded into the platform. The electronic transfer of this data is far more efficient than when it was delivered on discs. Secure Workspace simplifies the process for CPS staff and means the defence can access files immediately. This has transformed the speed with which evidence can be served and therefore enhanced the way justice is delivered in England and Wales.

Read the full case study.


Case Study: How communicating precise locations with what3words can save lives in emergencies.

Provided by what3words

In an emergency, when every second counts, reporting exactly where first responders are needed is crucial. However, an incident can happen anywhere and when there is no accurate street address or identifiable landmark, it is almost impossible for a 999 caller to describe their exact location.

Imprecise or unreliable directions make it difficult for emergency services to dispatch response teams quickly and accurately. what3words is providing a solution. It has divided the world into 3m squares and given each a unique 3 word address. Now, many emergency services around the UK, can locate callers using just three words. For example, a person reporting a crime along the River Calder would be able to give a call handler from West Yorkshire Police their three words, for instance “///chin.asleep.pump,” and help would be dispatched to that exact location.

what3words is available as a free app. In regions where services have officially adopted the system, a person calling 999 can simply open the app and give the three words for their current location to the call handler, who will retrieve the location from what3words’ map site.

Command and control systems have also integrated what3words, so that 3 word addresses can be entered directly into the software’s search bar. Several services have even deployed the what3words app onto team devices enabling responders to get directions to the precise location.

what3words is helping emergency services to save time, resources and lives.

Read the full case study.

4. Addressing problem scenarios

Some social interactions and scenarios have a recurring risk of violence, for example on licensed premises. Technology can play a useful role in addressing “problem scenarios” by making some processes faster, as well as reducing opportunities for disagreements or confrontation between staff and customers.

Case Study: Reducing opportunities for aggression and violence.

Provided by Yoti

While many different areas of our lives are going digital, we are still reliant on manual processes when it comes to proving our identity and our age. Physical ID documents can be lost or stolen with a reported 400,000 lost passports and almost one million driving licences misplaced in a single year in the UK. This places people at risk of identity theft and fraud – along with the costs of replacing the document.

Additionally, the rising quality and accessibility of fake IDs makes it difficult for anyone without specialist training and equipment to accurately check an ID, especially when under pressure to make a decision quickly.

The rise in violent behaviour towards front line retail staff is of great concern to the industry, with age checking on restricted goods (such as alcohol and tobacco) being the second highest driver of violence against staff behind shoplifting. Retailers in Scotland are so concerned that they are attempting to introduce legislation to make violence against retailers a specific crime. The use of technology for checking a physical ID document is a key part to ‘reducing friction’ between the customer and the retailer, thus reducing the potential for this friction to escalate into physical violence or threats of violence.

This technology is also being utilised to reduce harm in diverse areas such as online dating sites, classified ads, and social media platforms where increased trust around a person’s identity or age can help keep people safe both online and offline.

Read the full case study.

Next steps

These examples demonstrate how the tech sector and public safety and criminal justice organisations can work together in partnership to enable the efficient, intelligent delivery of citizen services and public safety outcomes.

Our public safety and criminal justice services deserve the tech tools and solutions that will enable them to safely and efficiently address the ever-changing and complex environment in which they operate.

techUK has collated these member case studies to highlight the excellent work that is already taking place across the public safety and criminal justice ecosystem. It is also a way of sharing best practice, lessons learned, and ultimately developing the value that tech solutions can deliver to complex social challenges.

To drive the integration of tech solutions in such critical public safety areas, we need to see increased engagement from government with the tech sector. Innovative tools are emerging every day which can underpin a stronger approach to tackling violent crime. This does not need to be solely focussed on after the fact. There are plenty of opportunities for prevention and early intervention where tech can enhance engagement and outreach.

We hope to see more partnerships across the public and private sectors that drive collaborative working across the wider public safety ecosystem in an effort to deliver meaningful transformation and ultimately deliver improved citizen outcomes.

Thank you to our contributors


Created with images by Jezper - "Multi color connected lines and dots network 3d illustration" • immimagery - "Social media network connection big data farming deep learning AI cloud tech" • Hieronymus Ukkel - "SUV of the City of London Police, Equipped with ANPR" • vinnstock - "Kid using tablet for online learning at home." • -=MadDog=- - "Hand Scan, Handprint (Imprint), Finger Print in Technological Theme, Futuristic Style" • denisismagilov - "Young woman face, biometric verification" • rost9 - "3D illustration Fingerprint scan provides security access with biometrics identification. Concept Fingerprint protection."