How technology could help the police

Hopefully the nights of unrest and violence on our streets have now come to an end. The clean-up operation is well under way and thousands of volunteers are doing great work to repair their communities.

Police have been dealing with civil unrest in many cities

Questions are now being asked about why the riots spread so quickly and how those causing trouble were able to keep in touch with each other.

The role of smartphones, social networking websites and the internet as a whole has been discussed by politicians and ordinary people alike. Did BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) help the rioters to co-ordinate their crimes? Was looting inspired by posts on Twitter?

There were calls to shut down BBM during the riots, while it has also been suggested that known troublemakers should be permanently banned from Facebook and Twitter.

Good tech

But while it is right to understand how technology has been used to do damage, isn’t it also worthwhile to look at how it has helped the authorities and good people?

When tweeters wondered if the riots were coming to their town or city, they logged onto Twitter. Among all the scaremongering and rumours were beacons of facts that people knew they could rely on – Tweets from police forces.

Nottinghamshire Police is just one example of a force using Twitter to reassure the public that officers were dealing with disturbances. Crucially, the account was manned after dark, dispelling myths and allaying the fears of people who worried their community might be next.

Elsewhere around the country, Avon and Somerset Constabulary has turned to Facebook to uncover the identities of rioters. How about tagging some troublemakers the next time you use Facebook?


So perhaps police forces are more tech-savvy than we give them credit for. Interestingly, in the US the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Julius Genachowski has put forward plans to bring their emergency services right up to date with technology.

Among his proposals for ‘Next Generation 911’ is a plan to enable members of the public to report crimes with text messages, pictures and videos.

This plan could help people text for help when it isn’t safe to speak, while a picture or video provides emergency services with more information than a verbal description. Pictures and videos can also be saved and used as evidence.

Perhaps some of these methods would help our police over here do their work. But either way, it’s proof that although technology can be used to cause disruption and grief, it’s also a valuable tool for the authorities to fight crime and communicate with the public.

While you can be down about technology and express disappointment at how it can help criminals, it’s better to master its benefits.

The police have already shown they are able to adapt to new methods for fighting crime and engaging with the public, so this is no time to take a step back.

Do you have any ideas for how technology can help the police? Comment below or tweet @DixonsinTheKnow