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27 April 2017

No RoboCop? Instead, a Digitally Enabled Police Officer

Whisked into Hollywood’s sci-fi world where RoboCops are the law enforcement superheroes who patrol the streets and fight the crooks to protect its people from criminal harm. Is that the future of policing that we envisaged? Adamant that no matter how far technology advances, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Police (DAC) Loke Wai Yew, Director of Next Generation Systems Directorate (NGSD), strongly believes that technology will never replace a human being. An astute conversationalist who speaks with pith and verve, DAC Loke carefully parses the reality of policing vis-à-vis the onslaught of technological advancements.

Technology: An Integral Part of Policing Work
In today’s society, technology has become so pervasive in our daily lives. As a newly established department in the Singapore Police Force (SPF), NGSD prides itself as a “start-up” tasked to equip officers with the “right” kind of technology that will enable them to be far more productive and effective in their jobs than they already are.

Officially formed in December 2016, NGSD also positions itself as an instrumental player alongside the Planning and Organisation Department (P&O) that spearheads SPF’s efforts to transform as part of the Home Team Transformation 2025 plans. Be it coping with rising public expectations or the sheer increase in workload, SPF needs to constantly update its policing strategies to remain successful in keeping Singapore safe and secure, and retaining public’s trust. As such, it is imperative for NGSD to study the constraints and deliver the cross-functional technology that will improve officers’ productivity and effectiveness to achieve SPF’s mission of preventing, deterring and detecting crime.

“Tactically, our deliverables are the IT technology systems. They matter because they enable the organisation to bring about the transformation it needs to remain successful. Moreover, with the launch of these systems, our officers can then better do their work with lesser pain and at a faster pace,” attested DAC Loke, who holds the concurrent position of Deputy Director (DD) at P&O.

Creativity Put to Test
As part of the integration of technology with policing work, DAC Loke, who formerly had a stint as DD at Police Technology Department, revealed a few initiatives NGSD has been driving.

To allow Head Investigations (HI) to better guide duty investigation officers on follow-up actions, the Briefing Note Automator (BNA) is one of such applications that allow users to automate mundane processes. Designed such that it allows the user to conduct screenings at a much faster pace, the BNA automates the retrieval of case information, screening and summarising findings in a single interface.

Frontline officers will also be equipped with an easy-touse computing device that will put all the information they need at their fingertips. Coined as the Police Smartphone, this device is targeted for its first phase launch in October 2017.

In truth, NGSD officers’ work does not end when the systems are launched. Regular follow-ups are carried out to ensure that the user is benefitting from the technology. Tweaks or adjustments will be made to improve the overall experience and make the technology more useful.

Taking cue from what NGSD does, it is no surprise that DAC Loke described the unit’s culture as being “different” and “casual”. To him, this is what contributes to the creative vein.

“We are not just looking at what we build to help officers do their work better, but it is also about how, as a team, we can be more effective. A lot of what we do is about imagining what is possible. What can we do to make it possible for us to do our work faster and better, and with less pain?” he chuckled.

The Incessant Challenges
Besides tailoring systems or applications to better address users’ needs and constraints, NGSD has to tackle two primary hurdles which revolve around basic communication with officers and SPF’s need to retain public’s trust

“NGSD needs to communicate in ways that make it easy for officers to understand how such technology can help them and the organisation to be more effective in keeping our community safe,” said DAC Loke.

Moreover, what will drive SPF’s adoption of technology in the future is the public’s ever-increasing expectations of SPF officers — civilian and uniformed — to do their job well.

“The reason why the rising public expectations present a challenge for SPF is because our inability to meet those expectations will translate to a loss of trust. Our effectiveness will be eroded if we lose the trust that the community has in us,” emphasised DAC Loke.

While the solution to this problem is a multi-pronged one, DAC Loke believes that technology is one of the key prongs. “Technology can play a role in improving the productivity of officers, freeing them from mundane repetitive tasks and allowing them to perform higher value work,” he deliberated.

The Need for Human Element
Ultimately, it is important to recognise that technology in SPF serves to augment the officers, not to replace them. The future of policing does not lie in the hands of bots.

“Machines can only do what a person programmes it to do. We have talked about artificial intelligence and this idea that machines can learn. But even then, the machines learn based on instructions that we give them,” quipped DAC Loke.

In his opinion, machines and programmes can perform the basic types of human functions. However, “Is it possible for a software to write an article that touches the soul? Machines are unlikely to outperform a human (in this instance). There will always be some things that machines are unable to do, such as considering morals and values and exercising compassion in unique cases,” DAC Loke explained.

Work-Life Harmony
Shedding more light on his personal beliefs, the father of twins is clear on his approach towards work-life harmony. “I always think that officers cannot be effective at work if their personal lives are not in order. The divide between personal and work is an illusion. For me, to be a productive, contributing officer who continues to grow professionally, you must also be growing personally,” shared DAC Loke.

Although, it would have least struck him in his teens that his career would take off in the Force, DAC Loke could not agree more that this is the job that allows him to “contribute to the society and know it better”.

Last Updated on 27 April 2017