What will policing look like in 2025?

By Nurfilzah Rohaidi

Assistant Commissioner Alvin Moh, Director of Planning and Organisation Department of the Singapore Police Force, on the evolving skills that police officers need.

As criminals increasingly take up digital tools, the police around the world must keep up.

But getting police officers to get accustomed to these new ways of working is a challenge. “The hardest part is getting people to embrace and use the technology”, said Assistant Commissioner Alvin Moh, Director of Planning and Organisation Department of the Singapore Police Force.

Moh is working to ensure more seasoned officers can quickly get comfortable with the high-tech tools that are increasingly becoming a part of their work. “You have officers in the middle who think, wow, if I need to do this, it's a very different way of working, how am I going to cope?,” he said at the recent Innovation Labs World summit hosted by GovInsider.

Enhanced officers

The police have restructured their organisation to cope with these changes. For instance, the Singapore Police have their own digital transformation unit. “It's useful internally to have a change agent, and a part of the police force that sees themselves maybe first as a technological organisation, rather than a police organisation,” he remarked.

This unit must engage with the private sector, understand how tech will play a role in the future, and be open to testing new approaches. They are “talking to the vendors, doing rapid prototyping, rapid experimentation”, he said.

Beyond fingerprints and blood spatters, it is crucial that modern-day officers have the means to extract digital evidence from the many devices that we use. “The old mode of working is, I seize the laptop, I want to get it analysed, I send it to my tech experts. Moving forward, that cannot be the case anymore, it's too many devices,” he noted. The force must train every investigation officer to be “equipped to extract data on his own”.

Officer training is starting to become a lot more immersive and realistic too. “We have started to embrace training simulators, augmented reality”, said Moh. In January, Singapore’s Home Team began using augmented reality and virtual reality to simulate terror attacks, knife-wielding hostiles, and other scenarios.
“We have started to embrace training simulators, augmented reality.”
A big part of this is enabling officers to learn while on-the-go, as many typically are not deskbound. “We have pushed a lot of systems out to being accessible for officers, not on their own personal devices, but on the police smartphone which we issue to them. They're able to do learning anytime on the go, whether they're out on patrol or even at home,” Moh explained.

Despite the “paranoia” that information may get leaked, the force is easing up to improve accessibility to training data for officers. “We realised that we need to be a bit more willing to share.”

Eyes on the ground and in the sky

Singapore’s public safety agencies leverage on a country-wide network of over 70,000 cameras, some of which can carry out analytics, including facial recognition, according to Moh. “Our vehicles are also installed with in-vehicle recording systems, with number plate recognition,” he said.

As of 2015, each police officer is equipped with body cameras as well - the result being that “public complaints actually dropped by 30% in just one year”, said Moh. “If they know that they're being recorded, it adds a certain amount of stability to some of the conversations.”

The police force is also using patrol robots for perimeter patrols and “drones that give us a certain aerial sense-making ability”, with the latter greatly improving communication in crowded areas. “We may not be able to get into your countdown parties and things like that,” he said.

Police officers cannot possibly keep tabs on the sheer wealth of footage from this army of cameras and devices, however. Instead, all of it can be analysed and interpreted by artificial intelligence to detect “emerging events”, such as fights or riots, Ng Yeow Boon, Senior Director, Ops-Tech Group of the Ministry of Home Affairs told GovInsider earlier this year.

Here, the challenge lies in ensuring that disparate sources of data can be pooled together. “A wider array of sensors, what data should we be collecting? How do we bring it all back to the center? How do we get the data to ‘talk’?” Moh mused.

And concerned citizens can play a part, particularly if they’ve gotten to the scene before the police have. “Sometimes we don't have to do it on our own, especially for traffic accidents,” he said. “We have plenty of online vigilantes who would do our jobs for us, upload videos.”

All of these measures aim to achieve one overarching goal: better decision making where it counts the most. “One of the internal things that we believe in is about being better informed for us to make better decisions and better actions,” concluded Moh.

Read our coverage of Innovation Labs World 2018 here.