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Publication of an extensive study of the rise of ‘influence policing’ as a novel digital mode of policing enhanced by algorithmic technologies.

The Scottish Institute for Policing Research are thrilled to announce the publication of a new extensive study of the rise of ‘Influence Policing’ funded by the SIPR Future of Policing grants. Policing must continue to evolve. Ongoing political, economic, and societal changes require the police service to adapt and respond to future challenges and maximise the benefits of future opportunities. Policing policies and practices will need to embrace innovation, and work collaboratively and sustainably.

Researchers at four UK based universities (University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University, University of Strathclyde, and University of Cambridge) studied the Police Scotland strategic communications team, which is leading the use of targeted digital communications for crime prevention, and conducted a separate study of the use of these ‘influence’ approaches across the UK using a new dataset from the Meta Ad Library. The report makes a number of analytical contributions and recommendations including calling for regulation and greater transparency, including an open register of digital campaigns by public sector bodies with details of targeting approaches.

Dr Ben Collier, lecturer in Digital Methods at the University of Edinburgh and one of the investigators on the project speaks of the dangers of digital communications, “The tools of digital advertising and surveillance are giving law enforcement in the UK powerful and potentially risky new capacities to influence the public. While we have found many examples of positive and innovative practice, we have also found serious harm and ethical breaches in the wider spread of these practices in the UK. The same tools are being used by different bodies in radically different ways – where some are engaging directly with communities to support them, others are using stereotyped or invasive targeting for harmful and unaccountable campaigns. Within this variety of approaches, we found a distinctive ’Scottish’ model emerging in Police Scotland that avoids many of the invasive aspects being used in the wider UK landscape, “…, facilitated by the more centralised accountability structure of the national force. If these methods are to become part of the future ’toolkit’ of law enforcement, then they need to be transparent and accountable to the public.”

Parts of the report have also been published in The Observer, The Independent and Byline Times. The full report can be found here.

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