Risk Prediction and Decision Making in Policing - Humans, Algorithms and Data. (A Study of Processes at Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire police)

Kazeem, Ganiat (2023). Risk Prediction and Decision Making in Policing - Humans, Algorithms and Data. (A Study of Processes at Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire police). PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.000162db


Modern policing work, as this thesis exemplifies, involves iterative evaluation of information and intelligence including application of organisational and practice knowledge to identify and assess risk factors and make decisions. The job of policing is inextricably connected to people, information, communication, and the technological artefacts that enable or support policing. In particular, the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in policing is inevitably influenced by regional and national policies, legislation, and public scrutiny.

This thesis reports on inductive interpretive multi-sited ethnographic work in the wild, situated in two closely related police forces with limited insights from a third. The police forces collaborate sharing their information systems and information technology services. The research focussed on police practices, seeking an understanding of information use, communication practices, organisational knowledge, use of information systems and the scope for data exploitation in relation to police risk prediction and risk decision making. The research also enquired about how these were potentially influenced by politics, policy and legislation as seen through the worldviews of police officers.

Insights were gathered through field immersion by observing and interviewing police officers at multiple sites for approximately 670 hours over a 3-year period. Data was validated using activity diagrams and member checking. The iterative ethnographic data collection process and persistent immersion in field supported elicitation of in-depth insights. Given the access to diverse groups of stakeholders insights highlighting problematic situations were also gathered. Data analysis was therefore pluralistic, conducted using thematic analysis for ethnographic insights and Checkland’s soft systems methodology for the visualisation and resolution of problematic situations.

The insights from the ethnographic research are presented in this thesis through descriptions, explanations and narratives including vignettes, selected quotes, and activity diagrams. The multifaceted and sociotechnical nature of modern policing is highlighted, contributing to existing ethnographic accounts of policing through detailed characterisations of the police organisation and the people who do policing work including their practices. An epistemology of police information use and communication practices is advanced alongside empirical insight into the use of information systems in the policing organisation. The contextual links between information, information systems and organisational memory are highlighted including the criticality and role of ICTs and technological artefacts with regard to day to day risk management and decision making as seen through the eyes of police officers.

Insights that inform future research and policy development are also advanced, highlighting the interdependence of socialised policing practices and the knowledge work modern police work involves. Emergent factors that influence police use of information and technologies are contextualised including organisational factors that influence and shape the uptake of algorithmic tools, contributing to existing knowledge around the use of and value of information and knowledge in policing. The complexities of adhering to politically and socially driven policies including those related to cooperative and collaborative working contexts during the pandemic are highlighted, alongside analysis of problematic situations using Checkland’s soft systems methodology.

Overall, the thesis draws attention to the impact of policy and reform on resourcing, demand, and efficacy of use of information, communication practices and use of ICTs in policing contributing to existing research into police informatics and reform.

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