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Harnessing innovation for policing

Ellie Rice, Security Lead, for the Defence and Security Accelerator programme explains how it benefits policing

The rapid evolution of technology and its adoption by criminals has combined with changing societal needs to present new and dynamic challenges to policing, driving a need for innovation in police technology, tools and processes. The landscape in which law enforcement agencies find themselves features rising cyber-enabled crime and increasing amounts of digital data, as well as the ever-present requirement to act with legitimacy and ensure community trust in policing.

To meet these challenges and solve future demands, police forces must embrace innovation – leveraging new technology as well as new approaches in order to stay ahead of criminals and to keep the public safe. Innovation necessitates diversity of thought, so it is only by accessing the broadest range of innovators that policing can find the best solutions and gain access to ideas that may not have been associated with policing before. But how can policing do this?

Nurturing innovation and supporting the commercialisation of solutions is the Defence and Security Accelerator’s (DASA) mission and policing is a key focus area for us. The Home Office is a critical partner of DASA and in 2021 we collaborated to develop the Security Rapid Impact Innovations Open Call, a three year, £20m initiative which funds innovation projects to tackle security challenges in the UK, seeking ideas that improve the understanding of threats to UK security and safety, enable threat prevention or enhance the threat response.

For the policing community the Security Open Call offers a new route to access innovation projects and engage with the innovators delivering them. DASA finds and funds the best ideas to help keep the UK safe, reaching out through our unique network of regionally-based Innovation Partners. The DASA Outreach Team of Innovation Partners are part of local ecosystems to help identify and support innovators – including those who have never worked with Government, police or security before – in their journey towards pitching their ideas.

Teams from across the Home Office and police forces, as well as the prison service, Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI), transport security and wider Government work closely with DASA to review the ideas submitted and support the development of those that are funded. DASA is always looking to build our pool of Assessors to ensure that we are funding the most impactful innovation projects, so we welcome contact from police officers to register as Assessors – especially those on the frontline who can provide valuable operational perspectives.

Recent innovations funded by DASA:

Trilateral Research provide ethical Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions to tackle complex social problems in the public sector. DASA has contracted Trilateral Research to deliver Project Iron, developing explainable AI that can help combat child exploitation and organised crime.

Project Iron will develop an algorithm that will incorporate the temporality of relevant events or activities when predicting a child’s risk of criminal or sexual exploitation, which will provide insight into whether risk is increasing or decreasing over time.

The project will enhance graph network capabilities to map organised crime groups (OCG) to identify groups of offenders working together, if an individual crime is part of larger OCG and key linkages between OCGs. 

AI solutions are limited if the inner workings of the algorithms and recommendations are not explained in clear and meaningful ways. Trilateral’s solutions augment decision-making by including explainability features, empowering users to understand the insights and use their professional judgement to review cases for potential interventions.

Mind Foundry – an Oxford University company – is working on a DASA-funded project to apply leading AI technologies to real-time information gathered from public sources of data such as social media. The challenges of this application are both in the ability to handle, identify and highlight relevant content in a time-sensitive manner, but also to do this in an explainable way to the consumers of that information, supporting informed and effective decision-making processes in operational environments.  

Mind Foundry draws on extensive research in Natural Language Processing, Entity Extraction and geolocation methodologies to bring together an operational picture of live situations. This has applicability in both real-time and retrospective analysis of events.

Innovators interested in submitting their security innovation into the Security Open Call should start by contacting DASA via our website. Their local Innovation Partner will then get in touch to discuss their idea. There is an international Innovation Partner for non-UK suppliers. We work with start-ups, micros, SMEs, academia and large suppliers in the UK and overseas. The Security Open Call runs five cycles each year, so there are multiple opportunities for innovators to put their ideas forward. Projects must complete by March 2024.

But DASA goes beyond simply finding and funding an idea. DASA supports funded suppliers to develop both their innovation and to build the business behind their idea, enabling the best innovations to protect our people and futureproof the supply chain. DASA provides exploitation support during the project to help with stakeholder engagement and to ensure that the innovation is fit for purpose in a policing context.

DASA’s Access to Mentoring and Finance (A2MF) team helps suppliers who wish to grow their businesses. A2MF leverages links to business networks and access to investors, such as venture capitalists and angel investors, to help raise capital. Noting that many suppliers funded through DASA are small or micro enterprises, the business mentoring programme offered by the A2MF team is invaluable in helping small organisations develop scale up plans.

These additional services are not just for innovators. The First Customer Fund is a service for policing and Government end-users who would like to procure prototype capabilities to inform a procurement specification. Many of DASA’s funded suppliers are small or micro enterprises, which are unable to provide prototypes free of charge – the First Customer Fund provides funding for procurement of prototypes for evaluation purposes.  

DASA is working hand in hand with the policing community to help them find the innovations they need to tackle current and future challenges. Richie Salter, Home Office Police Advisor, said about working with DASA:

“I know many in policing will be in contact with industry and institutions who are engaged in work that can benefit policing – but funding for innovation projects is hard to find. Accessing funding and support through DASA is a great method of boosting those projects.

DASA relies upon end-user Assessors to ensure that they are funding the right innovation projects for policing, and I would call upon policing colleagues from across the forces to contribute by signing up to assess proposals.

I also encourage fellow police officers to engage in DASA innovation projects to help shape the resulting outcomes, ensuring fitness for purpose and relevance to policing’s operational challenges. This co-creation is critical to ensuring that police can gain from technology development.”

If you are working in policing and think that DASA could find innovations to help you in your role or you would like to become an Assessor, please contact us at: accelerator@dstl.gov.uk

If you are a supplier and have a great idea for policing and security that needs support and funding get in touch with us at: accelerator@dstl.gov.uk.

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