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New Research to Explore Police-Public Engagement Through Technology

David Paul


Police Scotland Technology

The project, led by researchers from Napier University, will look into types of engagement, response and contact technology in policing.

A research project is set to explore how technology could change interactions between police and the public in Scotland.

Entitled ‘Investigating new types of engagement, response and contact technology in policing’ the project has received £862,000 in funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and will take place over the next three years.

The research will consider both the perspectives of police forces and members of the public, looking into ways in which the police “can and should design their systems to better reflect people’s needs and expectations”.

As well as this, the research will also consider the ‘visibility’ and accessibility of police forces after an increase of digital technology use, and to gauge how the public feels about the different ways the police can be seen and contacted.

Commenting on the research, project lead and Associate Professor of Criminology at Edinburgh Napier University, Dr Liz Aston, said that the aim of the project was to “shape policy and practice,” with a view to “improving service provision”.

“We will be working closely with three police forces, and with various communities in each, as well as with national policing organisations,” Dr Aston said.

“Our findings should directly and positively influence what the police do, and what the public are able to do to access police services.”

Dr Aston will be working alongside with Dr Helen Wells from Keele University, Dr Megan O’Neill of Dundee University, and Prof Ben Bradford at University College London (UCL); as well as new researchers, funded by the ESRC, who will be based at Edinburgh Napier, Keele and UCL.

In a statement, the research team said: “Online reporting may appeal to some people, or be particularly useful for some crime types, but we do not know enough about how people experience these types of interactions to be confident that they will be of benefit to everyone, in all circumstances.

“We also do not know if and how these developments might affect the way people feel about the police and what they do.

“We know that when people interact with officers they come to conclusions about the trustworthiness and legitimacy of police. But this knowledge is based on research which assumes that most or all contact between the public and police happens face-to-face, as it has done for decades.

“Given that this situation is changing, it is important that we reconsider our theories of public trust and police legitimacy, and if they are both fit for purpose in the current environment and are future-proof against new developments.”

A variety of collection methods will be involved in the project, including surveys and focus groups and in-depth case studies to spending time with police officers and observing how they work.


Police Scotland have been doing much to keep pace with the advent of technology, particularly in the realm of cybersecurity and tackling online child abuse.

The creation of a national police force in 2013 had an impact on the speed that changing cyber threats could be managed. The focus was put on building strengths in skills and people rather than data threats.

Police Scotland has attempted to remedy this with the announcement in September 2020 of cybersecurity Centre of Excellence to train police officers to fight cybercrime.

In April last year, the force also announced a campaign designed to target sexual predators who groom vulnerable children online and to tackle the consequences of online child abuse.

David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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