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I think it has come to be a 'stock' answer for most people when asked such a question in public satisfaction surveys. Most people (thank goodness) don't get involved with the business of the police on a year-to-year basis, let alone daily one. They don't spend their days contemplating what may be right or wrong with the way police forces carry out their duty - they are too busy with life's more trivial matters; work, shopping, children, school and social activities. The police are just there when you need them much like doctors, hospitals, firefighters and social workers. When confronted on a street corner by a well-meaning member of a police force asking for how the policing in their area could be improved, they freeze, clam up and revert to that stock answer.
"Well, you don't see police officers around like you used to - I would like to see more on the streets."So we deal with this by creating neighbourhood policing; try our best to run local surgeries and get officers out patrolling the streets as often as possible. But there is a flaw in the plan. Many people live their lives by routine and they don't schedule time in their day to attend meeting just to see a police officer. Even if the volume of officers on the streets were increased by x5 or even x10, it would be highly unlikely that the majority of people would see one. Why would they? they are probably tucked up in their office for at least 8 hours per day complaining that they don't see their boss as often as they should, let alone a police officer.
Anyway - here's the point. It doesn't matter how many extra officers we deploy to the streets. What matters is getting as many people as possible to know the extent of their patrols without actually having to witness it in person.
So my idea is simple. Track all street patrols by GPS and publish the track onto an online map.
The data doesn't have to be real-time because this may well prompt another inevitable question:
"That will make the job of the criminals much easier if they know where all the police officers are".So we upload the patrol tracks 12-24 hours later. There are several areas for improvement in this basic concept. Waypoints could be added with comments, photos, audio and video clips to illustrate the patrol. The software can be used to record and publish the distance traveled and some very reassuring data can be calculated as a result. I wonder how many thousand miles a typical force would clock up in a year if all the foot patrols for all their officers were added up?
Forces already have the national radio system (Airwave) in place which may well have GPS capabilities built-in and alternatives are coming in the shape of smartphones like the Apple iPhone and the latest Android phones.
At the start is a Google Map which was made using an HTC Desire Smartphone with an app called MyTracks - designed to record and plot runs and walks. I didn't make use of all the clever features, just the route and a few waypoints but it is still impressive and suggests a way forward in the future. (I added the photos on later - the MyTracks app doesn't do that yet but I think they're working on it).