Organizations and Technologies: Bridging the Gap Between Law Enforcement Needs and Industry Solutions

COPKIT is developing data-driven policing technologies to support Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) in preventing, investigating and mitigating crime and terrorism. In this blog, VICESSE analyses the challenges of developing tailor-made solutions for LEAs and ensuring their sustainable uptake.

Multiple projects funded under the Horizon 2020 research framework attempt to deliver tailor-made technical solutions addressing needs in law enforcement agencies. Existing and new challenges of police work, ranging from cybercrime, forensics, cross-border investigations, or crime prevention, are addressed by consortia comprised of technology developers and industry partners, social scientists and legal experts. Ambitious technology approaches should be investigated and applied, with mitigated risk of failure, to provide solutions for challenges arising in everyday policing, with the expectation of a short- to mid-term uptake and integration into Law Enforcement organizations.

This programmatic vision, however, faces a number of obstacles in practice: How can innovative, cutting-edge technological research, bound to run into unforeseen problems, be squared with close-to-market productization? Can the gap between the initial development of a solution and its final technical and organizational integration be bridged? Can a project development be driven by Law Enforcement Agency (LEA) needs or does it have to follow inherently technological demands and constraints? What is the right balance between robust low-fi tools and fragile, high maintenance hi-fi applications?

Herein lies the potential for grievances of practitioners:

  • Technologies, that are built without addressing practitioners’ needs beyond the initial problem-to-be-addressed, fail to meet wider organizational needs and rationale: beyond the costs of procurement and maintenance, LEAs face the difficulty of integrating new tech in the existing, slowly evolving IT infrastructure. Multiple stand-alone tools have often resulted in redundant application and doubling of resources used but all-encompassing systems often imply significant migration costs endangering the take-up. New demands for skills and human resources arise to employ these technologies in practice. Organizational responsibilities, roles, and information flows need to be adapted to integrate the use of these technologies into the existing administrative-organizational structure.
  • Technological solutions solve one process in the workflow and create another bottleneck at a different step: in order to be able to design and develop a technological solution, an existing problem needs to be broken down and operationalized into workable units, defining the problem as well as an indicator for success for the envisaged technology. The risk here is to sacrifice a holistic view of policing expanding from investigating officers’ needs, to procedural requirements, up to court-proof evidence.
  • Information/decision asymmetry in industry and LEAs alike: it is frontline practitioners within LEAs, who are faced with obstacles in operational police work and technology developers who are building the solutions on ground level, while higher management in LEAs makes decisions on procurement, and marketing departments in industry designing the product portfolio. This asymmetry can cause a disconnect between ground level needs and managerial choice, resulting in limited usability and acceptance.

COPKIT joins a number of projects and initiatives aiming to address these shortcomings. COPKIT’s COPLAB is designed to offer a sandbox for individual modules which can be tested by LEA practitioners and managers in demonstration and evaluation versions. It will minimize the risk of taking up and acquisition particularly in the case of very different methodologies and tools.

The COPLAB enables training in a “close to real” situation on de-sensitized data to comply with ethical and legal standards. COPKIT has also been in regular exchange with other initiatives, such as ILEAnet’s IPUP, to discuss and take on the challenge of creating sustainable uptake of project results.

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