Key takeaways

  • Criminals have become tech savvy, exploiting new digital ways of committing crime that are more complex and spread across geographic boundaries.
  • Social expectations are leading to people demanding more crimes to be investigated and in more places.
  • Budgets for law enforcement have dropped, failing to keep up with the increased need and placing police in the position of losing their legitimacy alongside capability.


Criminals have transformed in recent years. No longer defined by their physical actions, they are embracing technology to access new ways of perpetrating crimes. Unfortunately, the police charged with catching them aren’t properly equipped to do so.

These are the findings of PwC’s report Policing in a networked world which paints a complex picture around the future of policing. As demographic, societal and technological changes combine, new and varied types of crime are being made possible. They are going global, and digital, but budgets for police departments have not increased to allow police to adequately fight them.

“This has increased the risk of a gap not only between police capabilities and the crimes they must tackle, but also between the police and the public as people see that this new era of crime is not being adequately addressed,” say the report’s authors, Rollie Quinn and George Alders.

The challenge these circumstances present require a sophisticated and unified response – and it needs to be done now.

A critical

Traditionally, most police forces have aligned to a fairly common model – they are based at a police station and patrol the streets to stop crime. While the public still expects to see bobbies on the beat, at least at certain times and particularly in numbers that aren’t going to cause panic, it is no longer on the streets that police are most needed.

Crime is moving. Traditional crimes, such as theft, burglary and assault, have declined in the countries studied in the report. Complex crimes (sexual offences, fraud and drug offences) and ‘real world’ crime (terrorism, gang violence and organised crime), however, are increasingly moving inside and online, into the depths of the dark web or stirred into action on social media.

Together, these factors are creating a significant disruption for law enforcement, and without funding and agility, the report says, there is a “widening gap between the locus of crime and the practical ability of the police to tackle it”.

The speed
of data

The first problem facing the police force is the speed with which technology is developing. Digitisation is affording criminals an advantage over law enforcement while data, which is a vital tool for policing, is currently overwhelming in scale.

Police are increasingly collecting data from a widening variety of sources, including body-worn cameras, CCTV, mobile phones and social media. But collecting such information is only the first step. It needs to then be stored properly, analysed and packaged as evidence. Not to mention used for insight. And all of this has to happen while meeting different legal requirements.

social norms

Alongside this challenge, the type of policing society expects is also in flux. No longer a matter of physical protection on the streets, the complexity of ‘safety’ is deepening. With new online spaces, and changing norms on what crimes should be policed inside the home, such as society’s tolerance for sexual harassment and domestic violence, there has been an increase in workload for law enforcement and a need for different capabilities.

Even so, people still expect to see police on the streets, in just the right areas and at just the right times. But visible policing, particularly that for which a certain measure of organisation is required, is costly, and takes police away from other areas of importance.

Short and
long term change

To deal with the changes brought about by digital transformation, police departments need to transform. To counter gaps in skills and funding, cooperation will be key. Police must work within a broader ecosystem – including with other agencies, networks, communities and at all levels: local, national and international. Working smarter, by prioritising resources and combining capabilities will be necessary to combat locationally-ambiguous offences.

While some of these measures will help with the short term fight, there still needs to be a focus on building the workforce of policing for the future – meaning designing, recruiting and training policing staff to be agile and tech savvy. This will enable law enforcement to exploit the technology being used against them by criminals, anticipating and proactively stopping criminal activity before it begins.

Directionally, police must align to government and societal objectives, and make stronger economic cases for funding in line with new, complex crimes. To remain legitimate in the eyes of the public, police forces must shape the laws that they then enforce so that regulation reflects a reality they know better than most.

The future
isn’t all blue

Many police forces looked at in the PwC study are already trialling and implementing innovative solutions to the challenges they face with promising results.

Data is being used to predict crime and gain insight with increasing precision. Police are collaborating with local communities and agencies, increasing their knowledge to better serve in areas not traditionally their remit. Coordination and prioritisation are bearing fruit, sending the message to criminals that this is a new way of policing and prior loopholes based on jurisdiction are being closed.

As the report concludes, “business as usual is not an option” anymore, but innovative thinking offers inspiration that all police forces should take hope in, and action on.

To read the full report with detailed advice and examples of current police innovation around the globe, visit Policing in a networked world.