Nurturing strong community relationships has always been important to police services, for connecting and engaging with local citizens.
In its mission to foster a stronger relationship and increase public trust in its officers and support services, one Canadian police organization is using digital transformation to build community bridges.
Driving Transparent Policing Through New Digital Initiatives
Peel Regional Police (PRP) is the third largest law municipal police organization in Canada, serving the 1.5 million citizens living in the two largest cities west of Toronto.
Recently, PRP transformed how it delivers public service, creating a more open and trusting relationship with local neighborhoods by using digital technologies to enhance public safety.
“We wanted to demonstrate that our police officers are accountable and transparent to the community,” shared Anthony Odoardi, Deputy Chief of Innovation and Technology for Peel Regional Police.
One of PRP’s first initiatives has been equipping officers with body-worn cameras, supported by a digital evidence management system. But its successful implementation has involved more than just making sure the cameras work. Many members of the community were unsure whether to trust bodycams initially, so the project needed to drive cultural change.
“It’s not simply a matter of strapping a camera to someone’s chest and sending them out on patrol. Body-worn cameras are a sensitive subject—for officers and the community,” Odoardi said. “The project has required us to engage with stakeholders, and to do so authentically, to communicate bodycam technology’s positive impact.”
Turning the Tide on Public Perception of Police Technology
To nurture community trust, PRP had to be clear about how the footage its officers captured would be used, managed and stored, in addition to listening to public concerns about consent and data security.
“People wanted to know how we were going to use the images, where they were going to be stored, and if the cameras were always going to be on,” Odoardi explained. “They didn’t feel comfortable with cameras being used in a school setting or place of faith, for example.”
PRP took this feedback and used it to shape its digital transformation efforts: “By hearing people’s voices, we could show that we wanted to use technology to better serve them,” Odoardi said. “We’ve gone from a situation where the community was against us spending more than CND 10 million on body-worn cameras to an 80 percent approval rating.”
Peel Regional Police also influenced public opinion by demonstrating that bodycam footage would be used to enhance officer training, so PRP could respond to sensitive situations, such as mental health crises, more effectively.
“We’re changing the narrative, using bodycam footage to support scenario-based training and increase our cultural competences,” Odoardi said.
Supporting Frontline Services With a Robust Infrastructure
It wasn’t just community obstacles that PRP needed to overcome in its digital transformation strategy.
For new technology initiatives to work successfully, PRP had to manage the vast volume of data within its wider mobility strategy, including the use of officially issued smartphones to securely connect officers with policing apps.
To put a robust yet flexible infrastructure in place, Peel Regional Police began working with VMware to introduce cloud technologies, using VMware Workspace ONE to unify data management and control access to system information.
Moving to a cloud-based platform was more than a security improvement for PRP. Being able to upload and retrieve data on the move has empowered officers to spend less time writing up incidents and more time focusing on public services. Recording information centrally means that PRP can use this data to connect the public with community support services where needed.
“We need to move out of a crime response model towards a social disorder management model because most of what we do in policing isn’t criminal,” Odoardi said. “That means connecting people with the right resources after the first time we respond to a call, so we don't get called again.”
Becoming Comfortable With the Uncomfortable
It’s been a year of rapid change for Peel Regional Police, but digital transformation has provided more than a new approach to managing workload. It’s changed the way officers handle incidents and strengthened their bond with members of the local community.
And with the technology infrastructure now in place, PRP is taking its commitment to changing community relationships even further by collaborating with the Ontario Human Rights Committee.
“We are there to support people in their worst times and that means taking a human-centric lens; policing the way we ourselves would want to be treated,” Odoardi explained. “We want to make a healthier community based on safety and wellbeing, and we’ve demonstrated a willingness to be comfortable with the uncomfortable to achieve this.”