Increasing trust in the police: research contributes to National Police’s Intelligent Crime Reporting tool

How to increase trust in the national police? An interdisciplinary research team of Utrecht University led by prof. Albert Meijer investigates to what degree sensitiveness to values such as privacy, and equal treatment and transparency of the use of algorithms, can strengthen the trust of citizens in the police. Recently, this research has directly contributed to fine-tuning the use of the National Police’s Intelligent Crime Reporting (ICR) tool. This direct application of the research findings can contribute to strengthening citizens' trust in the use of algorithms by the police.

How can the police strengthen citizens' trust in its Intelligent Crime Reporting (ICR) tool?

Algorithms are increasingly adopted by government organizations to support work processes, and a growing number of decisions in the public sector is being taken by automated systems or by intelligent decision systems. This trend is also visible at the police, a sector in which algorithms have a profound impact, and citizen trust is crucial. The research team focuses on this sector, looking specifically into strengthening trust in algorithmic policing (ALGOPOL).

Explaining algorithmic decisions

In their first study, conducted within the ALGOPOL project, the researchers aimed at determining the effect of algorithmic explainability on citizen trust. How can the police strengthen citizens' trust in its Intelligent Crime Reporting (ICR) tool (de slimme keuzehulp)? PhD candidate Esther Nieuwenhuizen, together with the Utrecht Policelab AI, examined this question. Dr. Stephan Grimmelikhuijsen and prof. dr. Floris Bex supervised the study.

Intelligent crime reporting

The intelligent crime reporting-tool is a smart decision-making system used by the Dutch police. The system uses algorithms to assess reports of online trade fraud, such as fake web shops. The researchers tested how different types of explanations effected citizen trust in the decisions made by the ICR-tool, by means of an experiment. 

Algoritmization and citizen trust

Providing specific motivations substantially increases trust

Esther Nieuwenhuizen: "The results of our research show that a justifications explanation - a motivation for the specific decision of the ICR-tool - had a substantive positive effect on trust. A procedural explanation - information about how the algorithm came to its decision – only had a small positive effect." Based on these findings, the police asked her to put the recommendations into practice.

Making impact at the police

She rewrote all decisions of the ICR-tool in which citizens are advised not to report their case. In each case, she incorporated a justifications explanation to show the user why it is not a case of online fraud. For instance, because the web shop they reported is listed as "trustworthy" in the police system, or because the person did not wait long enough before a report can be filed.

Before the researcher made these changes (with the previous original explanations given by the ICR-tool), 72% of the people who received the advice to not report the crime, still chose to file a report. Providing a justifications explanation can reduce this percentage to 9.4%, as shown in the experiment. Nieuwenhuizen: "In the coming months, we will learn whether the outcomes in practice are as substantive as the results of our experimental study. Hopefully, rewriting the explanations in the decision-making system will help in building trust among users of the ICR-tool."

Maintaining the trust of citizens

This study provided valuable new insights into how trust in algorithmic policing can be strengthened. Considering the increasing use of algorithms by the police, the ALGOPOL research team will further research the claim that value-sensitive and transparent algorithmization are needed to ensure that public organizations -such as the police- maintain the trust of citizens.

Governing the Digital Society

The ALGOPOL research project is closely linked to Utrecht University's research area Governing the Digital Society. This focus areas promotes research on the social processes of datafication, algorithmisation and platformisation. Its basic research inquiry revolves around the question: How to develop and apply principles of (good) governance in digital societies?