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It’s all a bit sci fi, but how about putting bobbies on the beat?


CAN you believe a British police force is dropping tricky cases on the advice of computer programmers? Having worked with the police, been best man to a murder detective at his first wedding and had some contention with them in my lifetime, I can believe this. But don’t take my word. New Scientist reports that in one force some Desktop Plod now consults an algorithm to help decide which crimes are solvable and should be investigated by officers.

The unnamed force claims it saves time and money by investigating fewer of the reported assaults and public order offences.

My concern is that algorithms reflect the biases of their creator. So when your case comes up for consideration, let’s hope the arbitrating algorithm wasn’t written by some impressionable virtue-signalling hipster.

But if modern developers are as politically partisan as the creepy coders of The Big Browser Collective (Facebook, Google, Twitter and Co) then we are in trouble.

The police’s new Evidence Based Investigation Tool (EBIT) is currently used only for assessing assaults and public order offences, but may soon be extended to produce a probability score of other crimes’ solvability.

‘Police officers want to investigate everything to catch offenders,’ says Ben Linton at the Metropolitan Police, who isn’t involved with the project. But – if the solvability analysis suggests there is no chance of a successful investigation, your file is going in the bin.

I worry that the two-tier police force we have today will have more classes of service than the caste system. Trust me, I’ve been reporting on the rise of the automated class system since retailers first trained their PBX machines to route phone calls from unfashionable areas to call centres in India.

The more I witness the effects of technology on society, the more I yearn for the ingenuity of the human brain, which is a constant work in progress and must be on version 4million by now. It’s not the technology per se that is bad. Just the people who apply it. Power is concentrated in the hands of a few and this demographic seems to have a high incidence of weirdos. If you think Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg looks like restraining order material, wait until you discover Elon Musk. In my opinion, absolute power has corrupted them absolutely.

If the police want to play sci-fi, I’ve got an alternative Minority Report style proposal to prevent crime before it happens. My project is called Minority Rapport.

In the scheme, police constables are distributed around town and trained in Advanced Ambulatory techniques. No no, not foot patrols! This is way more sophisticated than that. (Well, OK, yes, they are foot patrols, but don’t tell them.)

These AA cops will be asked to gather intelligence from the community. We’d call this Operation Lazy Sunday Afternoon.

The goal would be to establish which members of the community think it would be nice to get on with the neighbours. And which bigots have made it very clear that they’ve got no room for ravers. Information about these tensions in the community could be fed back to base, where a team of scientists would conduct complex interrogations of the data. They would feed back suggestions about alleviating the tensions.

Research shows that showing interest in people can improve community relations. A typical inquiry might go: ‘Hello Mrs Jones, how’s your Bert’s lumbago?’

The Advanced Ambulatory cops would be performing what the IT industry calls a ‘Deep Dive’ into the zeitgeist of the community.

This constant interfacing with the general public would enable them to find common communication standards. ‘Aha, I see you’re a football fan,’ a typical exchange might go. Or these days, it’s more likely to be, ‘Wow, I’m also a Virgo! Hey, are you a perfectionist too?’

Soon the cops become an embedded empathetic unit with a deep knowledge of the communities they patrol – sorry, Ambulatise. They will know everything about the people living in every street. Who are the God-fearing churchgoers, who are the squatters, who works odd hours, who keeps himself to himself but isn’t a serial killer, who is being pestered, who are the local bullies and why they have gone off the rails. Some may even develop ‘common sense’ and be able to devise proportionate responses to events that often look far worse than they are. By the same token, they will know the context behind every incident and know who is telling the truth.

These ‘human intelligence modules’ (I repeat they are NOT beat officers) would be empowered with the capacity to make better decisions.

Here’s the really science fictiony bit. Some might even be able to take wayward kids off the street and give them a bit of mentoring. Maybe they could find them a football team to play in, encourage them to join the Army or recommend to their mothers a way to get help.

This is getting us into Minority Report territory now. Police officers would be empowered to identify future problems, based on their knowledge base of human nature, and nip them in the bud before they happen.

These ‘beat cops’ could actually embed themselves in the community. By their presence and pre-emptive actions, many crimes would be prevented before they happened. Think of the savings on all that boring paperwork and all those hours sitting in court waiting for the Crown Prosecution Service to tell you that the case has collapsed.

They could save on equipment too. There would be no need to scramble any helicopters, summon SO19 or break out the water cannon and the Tasers.

The only thing they would miss is those high-profile raids on the homes of celebrities, where they parade all the victim’s worldly goods in see-through plastic boxes as they march them before the invited throng of press and broadcast media. To mollify the police, perhaps the odd celebrity or innocent loner could be subjected to Trial By Photo Opportunity, as a special treat.

Meanwhile, the constables would be welcome and very popular in their own community – and that has to be better surely. We just need to think of a fancy name to get them to accept the premise. Maybe they could be called the Special Ambulatory Squad (SAS). Who Dares Walks.

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Nick Booth
Nick Booth
Nick Booth is a freelance writer.

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