Citizen Forensics

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: Faculty of Sci, Tech, Eng & Maths (STEM)


This project reframes key challenges that underlie modern policing in a socio-technical world; a world instrumented with mobile and ubiquitous computing technologies, in which many citizens and communities live, work and play, but which must also manage threats to their wellbeing and their rights. The project aims to support a new engagement between authorities (such as the police) and communities of citizens in order to better investigate (and in the long term reduce) potential or actual threats to citizen security, safety, and privacy. This includes both empowering the police by opening up new ways of citizens providing data in ways that protect privacy and anonymity, and empowering citizens by using these new technologies to also hold the police to account. We will be harnessing many of the so-called Internet of Things, Smart City and Smart Home technologies to encourage and allow citizens to help the police collect and analyse disparate data to improve public safety at both local and ultimately national levels.

The project will adopt a multi-disciplinary approach, drawing on the disciplines of software engineering for ubiquitous systems, social and cognitive psychology, and digital forensics / policing.

Planned Impact

Engagement and impact in the proposed project are a substantive thread running through each work package and will span a range of disciplines. These include some of the more applied disciplines such as policing and digital forensics, as well as traditional disciplines such as social and cognitive psychology, adaptive systems, software engineering and human-computer interaction.

We will utilise traditional channels, such as journals, conferences and workshops for achieving academic impact. Our non-academic impact is distinctive in its focus to achieve high public impact. We will engage ordinary citizens, community groups, and the police in order to harness underutilised resources in the community to empower stakeholders to make communities safer, improve police efficiency, and to hold the police to account. We expect our impact to be measured by increased community safety perceptions, improved crime detection and conviction rates, and fewer complaints against the police.


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Description Perceptions of police trustworthiness are linked to citizens' willingness to cooperate with police. Trust can be fostered by introducing accountability mechanisms, or by increasing a shared police/citizen identity, both which can be achieved digitally. Digital mechanisms can also be designed to safeguard, engage, reassure, inform, and empower diverse communities.

We systematically scoped 240 existing online citizen-police and relevant third-party communication apps, to examine whether they sought to meet community needs and policing visions. We found that 82% required registration or login details, 55% of those with a reporting mechanism allowed for anonymous reporting, and 10% provided an understandable privacy policy. Police apps were more likely to seek to reassure, safeguard and inform users, while third-party apps were more likely to seek to empower users.

As poorly designed apps risk amplifying mistrust and undermining policing efforts, we suggest 12 design considerations to help ensure the development of high quality/fit for purpose Police/Citizen apps.
Exploitation Route We are already drawing on this systematic understanding of police-citizen collaboration apps to inform the design of new technologies to support community policing interactions. We expect the findings to inform further research into the development and use of digital technologies for policing, as well as policing practice.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Presentation on Building trust in digital policing 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A presentation to representatives of the policing member organisations in the Centre for Policing Research and Learning, reporting on the findings of your systematic review of community policing applications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020