By Patrick Brogan
The JM Synge Theatre in Trinity College was the venue for an event that looked at potential changes to police forces both in Ireland and internationally. Behind the Headlines; The Future of Policing was made up of a panel of Kathleen O’Toole, Chair of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, Dr Antonio Oftelie, the Executive Director of Leadership for a Networked World, TECH Harvard University, Mary Rogan, Law at Trinity College Dublin and Eunan O’Halpin, Contemporary Irish History at Trinity College Dublin.
Due to time constraints, I only managed to get to hear Dr Oftelie and Kathleen O’Toole. Both were very interesting to listen to. Dr Oftelie focused mainly on technological advancements in the field of policing and the potential positives and negatives of this.
One topic was how AI can help in the area of predictive policing. This looks at the areas with the highest crime rates. He said this can make policing more efficient, but that this system can rely too much on historical data and this may not reflect the current situation.
Another interesting topic he discussed was AI networking which looks at the potential connections between individuals. This can lead to a phenomenon known as contextual collapse whereby people may be connected, but not through crime. Dr Oftelie gave an example of a young man from Harlem who served 19 months in prison because he simply liked a post of a gang member who was associated with his brother.
The Harvard University doctor outlined three areas that will impact on the future of policing and they were; Technology balanced against civil liberties, Transparency, and Digital advancements and public trust. He stated that this last section has to be carefully managed because if it is either too fast or too slow it can lead to a lack of confidence from the public.
Kathleen O’Toole spoke about the evolution of police reform both here and in the US. She said when she was originally trained in law enforcement it was for a “war on crime”. However, when she was out in the field, most of her time was spent responding to people in need. She said policing is a service, it is a vocation and not a job.
She felt police accountability in Ireland was of a higher standard than that of many parts of the US and recommendations from reports like the Patten Commission had vastly improved policing on the island.
She said she is very much focused on the future and that there is “no agenda but to get it right”, police should be a part of the community in a democratic country and they should reflect its society.
However, when the questions were turned to the audience Dr Oftelia said he felt that the culture of information and transparency in Irish policing is not where it should be and Mary Rogan and Kathleen O’Toole both made the point that there should be a clearer process to make sure recommendations from policing reports are implemented.
A Brave New World?
Policing is under increasing scrutiny due to technology and social media. Edward Snowden highlighted the misuse of information by intelligence agencies and what is to stop that trickling down to police forces? In this country, we have the ongoing saga of the whistleblowers scandal. The panel made the point about the use of technology and its good and bad points. This needs to be addressed quicker as some people have already fallen victim to the AI system. These issues need to be sorted soon as we are heading into an era when these mistakes will be hard to rectify and could ruin many lives before it is even noticed.
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