26 February 2020

Police Rewired and Hack the Police

Lewis Westbury has been a Special Constable with the Metropolitan Police Service since 2009. A year ago he took a career break to establish and run the Police Rewired community. Here he tells us about their aims and some of their work with the police.

Police Rewired is a civic-tech community of volunteer professionals with skills and expertise in software and technology. We coordinate volunteer projects and events to prototype and build new tools, tackle crime, and improve public safety. As part of this, we've run 3 hackathons and started several new projects.

A hackathon is an invention marathon - an event where teams compete for prizes in categories defined by key themes. Our annual hackathon, Hack the Police, is a free and open event - aimed at software developers, designers, students, academics, police officers, investigators, and creative problem solvers.

In the context of the hackathon community, think of "hackers" as people who "hack things together" – rather than criminals. 

Civic technology fighting crime
Volunteer civic-tech communities for open government, open services, and open democracy already exist. The ideas they embrace resonate with us as public servants; putting users first, evidence-led design, open source software development,  allowing systems to work together, working in the open and taking risks. All of this builds trust with the communities we serve.

With the rise of Government Digital Service, the DDaT program, NHSX, and new digital services teams across the rest of government this approach is now becoming mainstream, and directly leads to more interoperable services that are much cheaper to run, and trivial to switch between providers. Assembling systems that can interact by default through open standards and open interfaces, will lead to a myriad of new services - many of which we couldn't have predicted, some created for and some created by the public.

Hacking the Police
Hack the Police 4 was an opportunity to open up policing and public safety problems to a wider audience of technologists, developers, designers, students and academics. Over the course of a single weekend, we set open challenges and offered prizes for the best new ideas and projects.

Our September event in London attracted 50 participants. Serving police officers and staff attended to present policing problems, and share their expertise with the teams working on the proposed solutions. The event culminates in presentations from the teams that formed over the weekend. This year we saw thirteen exceptional projects, all of which you can see and read more about in our Hack the Police 4 Report slides.

Here are some highlights:

CRITr (Communities Resolving Issues Together) is a community safety organistion tool, now being trialled by the Streetwatch Programme in Manchester. Using a map as the interface, it allows volunteers to report issues, create and sign up to events, and get out onto the streets together to resolve them.

Read more about CRITr

DNA Impersonators wowed us. A team of geneticists at Hack the Police built a threat model highlighting how a criminal might affordably locate and synthesize DNA sequences that can be used to falsify forensic evidence at a crime scene. They also explored options for mitigations available to industry and policing.

Read more about DNA Impersonators

    WIT uses techniques to analyse unstructured text and improve the quality of statements. Members of the public can compose a statement, and WIT will identify the people, places, events, objects and structures within their statement – and ask for more details to improve the quality of evidence. Built around ADVOKATE and the 5-part statement, it provides some structure where a police officer may not be available to provide it.

Read more about WIT

MISSING is a project built around the power of machine learning to help optimise the search for missing people. It's currently in development, but teases the possibility of using the data officers collect when reporting a missing person to make predictions of their whereabouts, and help to prioritise the search.

Read more about MISSING

 

Creating value
The work doesn't stop after the hackathon. The value we want to provide comes from successfully helping these, and other projects to reach production and impact public safety. Police Rewired was formed to build relationships that can help to fulfil that goal.

In December 2019, we held our first Hack the Police showcase event at New Scotland Yard, presenting 6 of the projects to an audience of senior officers, staff, and experts - soliciting their advice and support. We are now in the process of connecting project teams with their natural partners in policing and public safety to help bring their work to life.

Some projects are making progress already - CRITr, protoyped at Hack the Police, is now moving to trial.

Police Rewired help our members to coordinate and run projects throughout the year, and this year is no exception. We have developers and designers working on a number of projects, including:

  • Referrals Tool - to help custody sergeants and police make high quality referrals to charities with expertise to help the vulnerable people they encounter every day;
  • Emergency Recorder - a tool to help people record video hands-free while on a call to 999;
  • The Active Citizens Toolkit (ACT) - a resource for citizens who want to step up and get involved in the public safety story of their own communities.

 

Active Citizens
As a volunteer community, we've flourished in the past year, and we're steadily increasing our reach into the civic tech community. We're building ACT to help others find their own path into volunteering or protecting the vulnerable people in their own communities.

All our articles are accessible, focused on practical advice, tips and tricks.

If you're a public safety practitioner with a passion for helping the public to help themselves, get in touch and write for us!

Join our community!
You can reach and join our community, or find out more, in many ways:

We're also reachable through: team@policerewired.org