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January 16, 2019

A “Complete and Utter Mess”: As 2019 Kicks Off What Will Become of Police IT?

"With the publication of the Policing Vision 2025 describing numerous ambitions for digital policing, the time is ripe for change"

By CBR Staff Writer

It may be the dawning of a new year but many are still haunted by the same ghosts, especially those the police force, who still have the damning police IT report from the Home Affairs Select Committee hanging over them, writes Simon Hall, CEO and co-founder, Coeus Software.

Released towards the end of 2018 the report painted a dire picture, describing UK police forces’ investment in and adoption of new technology as “quite frankly, a complete and utter mess.”

Simon Hall, CEO and co-founder, Coeus Software.

The fragmented nature of the UK’s many police forces is the main culprit here. Without rolling out major technological initiatives country-wide the report identified a problem of policing being “hamstrung” by “numerous different solutions to the same problem being generated across different forces,” both complicating matters and increasing costs immensely.

While an argument could be made for the benefits of a national police force (lowering costs, sharing resources, driving consistent strategies to tackle major issues such as cybercrime etc.) this is a political question that won’t be resolved anytime soon. And in any case, each force has very different policing requirements, such as rural compared to urban forces, so an argument can always be made for the appropriateness of this fragmented structure.

That being said, it is the size and fragmented nature of UK police forces that makes it difficult to “implement new technology and communications solutions at an agile pace.” Nevertheless, there are ways forces can circumvent this problem.

The key issue is the fact that there is little-to-no interoperability between any of the police IT systems. One quarter of police forces require access to six or more databases just to work on a single case for example. Keeping data in siloes across systems is inefficient and increases the risk of errors, but crucially it is also a big demotivator for the workforce, who often might feel inclined to agree with some of the home affairs committee’s harsher comments.

This lack of interoperability is exacerbated even further when data needs to be shared between forces or with agencies outside of the police: the probation services, courts, social services etc. all use different IT systems. From a simply practical level, that is a nightmare for everyone involved in serving the public. While the situation sounds dire however, there are technical solutions forces can implement to make their lives a lot easier.

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police IT

Police IT: Leveraging Mobile and Cloud

“Tilting to the cloud” was a frequently heard phrase in 2018, and with good reason. Tech teams across sectors have cottoned on to the fact that a cloud-first strategy can give any company a new level of agility. The benefits of cloud-based services over “traditional” IT is that, once in place, they can be deployed very quickly to deliver cost-savings to a force within a matter of weeks (or even less).

At the moment simply taking a witness statement or issuing a ticket for a driving offence requires an officer to process mountains of paperwork and spend more time sat at a desk at the end of their shift. But by leveraging the cloud and deploying mobile apps police forces can give their officers the ability to move quickly, accessing the multiple databases they need to use every day from the palm of their hand. Right now officers in the UK are dealing with filing paperwork and reports through different systems daily, but with a mobile app officers can get paperwork done, digitally, while in or out of the office, with all of the necessary back office processing carried out in real-time.

Perhaps most importantly for officers, a mobile app can provide a means by which disparate systems can be researched on a federated basis, providing officers with immediate access to all the known facts about a person, object, location or event so they can make informed decisions more quickly. Data can then be collected digitally, updating individual records in real-time.

A Cloud on the Horizon

Since 2012 the public sector has been encouraged to go “cloud-first” and “digital-by-default”. But despite this, and the launch of the government’s G-Cloud framework that same year (making it easier for the public sector to procure cloud services), most police forces remain largely paper-based. And when new technology is introduced to the police force it is often implemented in “piecemeal fashion.”

Digitisation will save police forces valuable time, as well as an untold amount of money. To illustrate this point, Avon and Somerset Constabulary has calculated it could save £323,943 per year in back office costs just from rolling out digital statements to its officers. That is just one process in one force going digital. Imagine the scale of change that could be achieved if more forces joined the digital revolution.

Early in 2018 Policing minister Nick Hurd earlier this year told the House of Commons that the police is “not where they need to be” to take advantage of new technology, which marks the “biggest opportunity in British policing.” While IT improvements are not the panacea for the police, the Home Affairs report did state that they risked “irrelevancy” if meaningful change was not made. The time is undoubtedly ripe for change, and with the publication of the Policing Vision 2025 describing numerous ambitions for digital policing, the motivation is clearly already there. Implementing a cloud/mobile approach will help officers do more with less in a relatively short time while protecting the relevance of the police to serve the public.

See also: This Homegrown Data Visualisation Tool is Helping to Catch Criminals


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