Crime A custom-fit app for community policing

Published 29 January 2018

Apps allowing citizens to report crimes or incidents are now commonplace, but they generally fail to adapt local contexts, cultures and sensibilities. SecureU, a new app that addresses this shortcoming, is currently being tested in five European cities.

The emergence of the web 2.0 has provided us citizens with a highway to higher participation in the society we live in. We can easily voice our opinion on a large-scale, but also potentially gather enough support to shape societal change, all this in record time. This applies to politics, for instance, but also to law enforcement.

Since 2010, smartphone apps enabling citizens to report crimes or incidents have been cropping up at an increased pace. In light of the predominantly Anglo-Saxon approach to these apps, however, the CITYCOP (Citizen Interaction Technologies Yield Community Policing) project set out to identify the reasons behind the lack of European alternatives before developing a solution of its own, reflecting the diversity of European cities and societies.

Prof. Dr. Jeanne Pia Mifsud Bonnici, coordinator of CITYCOP for the University of Groningen, discusses the project’s outcomes with CORDIS, a few months away from its completion in May 2018.

CORDIS: How do you explain that user-generated content is becoming so important in crime reporting?
Jeanne Pia Mifsud Bonnici
: There are several reasons for that. Firstly, it’s an innovative way to directly engage with police, and it gives community members a greater sense of contribution by providing them with more convenient options to report crimes, quality of life issues and suspicious activity. These have become essential components of the 21st century’s policing.

Secondly, such methods of direct engagement and contribution help improve the efficiency of police operations, allowing more effort to be directed towards solving crimes and addressing community concerns.

CORDIS: The project aimed to explain why the EU is lagging behind. What did you find out in this regard?
Bonnici: The relationship between police and community members in the EU is unique. Our research showed that the definition of community policing varies greatly from country to country. Whereas some parts of Europe have decades of experience with community-oriented policing, for others, the concept is relatively new and just beginning to take shape in respect with cultural sensitivities and historical relationships with law enforcement.

Because of this, there cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to technological solutions that support these programs. Before innovation can take hold and bear measurable benefit, there needs to be a demonstrable commitment to engaging and building trust.