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Public safety ‘imperilled’ by lack of functional and interoperable police IT, says report

Use of technology in the country’s police forces remains poor, according to chief inspector of constabulary Thomas Windsor, who is calling for a decision-making mechanism procuring, establishing and running police IT

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Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary Thomas Windsor has called for police forces to improve their adoption and implementation of technology.

In his annual State of Policing report, Windsor said chief constables must work with the Police ICT Company, which was set up two years ago, with the aim of saving money for police forces through the central provision of national IT systems, to radically improve the way the forces use, design and procure systems.

He said that the “chronic lack of interoperability between forces’ ICT systems”, which is a Strategic Policing Requirement (SPR), “clearly demonstrates that having regard to the SPR is not enough and that forces need to go much further”.

“Until the police service has a fully functional, interoperable system of ICT networks, efficiency and effectiveness are impaired, and public safety is imperiled.”

Last year, the UK National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) set out its vision for policing in 2025, aiming to improve data sharing, integrate IT functions, improve digital intelligence and make digital interactions easier.

Windsor said in his report that the “absence of an effective collective decision making mechanism” nationally hampers progress and ends up causing an insular and isolated culture.

“The solution I have proposed is a network code: a decision-making mechanism for the establishment, revision and abolition of common operating standards and procurement of ICT,” he said. “It would still require all police and crime commissioners and chief constables to pool their sovereignties, in the interests of a more efficient, economical and effective police service. This is an opportunity for them to improve policing, not a threat to their independence.”

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Some forces however, are already ahead of the game when it comes to interoperability. Last year, West Midlands and seven other police forces was awarded £2m by the Home Office’s police transformation fund to create a UK-wide data and analytics platform to transform the way forces collate and use data to tackle complex policing problems and help prevent crime. 

One key issue is that “too many forces” have hordes of bespoke systems that only a few people in the organisation know how to maintain.

“To address this, forces need to give deep thought to the ICT architecture that they are designing. This is more important, and more difficult, than the effective procurement of individual devices,” he said.

“Too many forces invest significant amounts of money in devices and systems that their ICT architecture cannot handle efficiently.”

He added that this isn’t just a technology problem, but also a lack of staff with the right skills in police forces to ensure they make “good use of technology” with few forces investing in developing the digital skills in the organisation.

“Fewer still ensure that ICT and new technology are at the heart of their day-to-day work,” he said.

In last year’s report, Windsor said that despite having raised the issue of poor police IT several times, there are still “too many instances where forces failed to keep up with technological developments”.

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