A Riverbed wide area network optimisation project has allowed Devon and Cornwall police in remoter areas to spend more time out in the communities they protect.
The installation of Steelhead appliances provided 70 small police stations with better access to central resources, minimised time officers spent on administration, and allowed greater flexibility in setting up and relocating offices.
Jim Goodwin, network manager with Devon & Cornwall police, said the force had the biggest geographic area in England to cover. Most of it was rural, with long distances between towns, and therefore with relatively restricted communications. In addition, the force's communications had to meet the BIL3 security standard (which applies when there is a risk to an individual's personal safety or liberty, or roughly the same level of threat in the disclosed Wikileaks cables).
Because of the geography the force installed 1Mbps ADSL links three years ago. Goodwin said this allowed a couple of officers in remote stations to be online at the same time. But even then, they would have to wait for screens to update.
Most police applications were written to make efficient use of bandwidth. But the amount of rich media traffic rose, and as a result, response times fell, Goodwin said. The next step up, to leased lines, an MPLS network or optical fibres, was too costly to justify, he said.
Instead the force installed Riverbed Steelhead appliances at its Exeter headquarters and at a police station in Torquay. The appliances only sent data changes. This cut the data moved across the remote links by 70%, and also enhanced data security as any data sent was automatically encrypted and compressed.
This cut response times, allowing five or six officers at the remote stations to be online concurrently. As a result the force rolled out the appliances to 26 locations that together serve 70 rural and smaller offices.
It also allowed the force to open and shut offices as needed. Many were shared temporarily with other public sector bodies, such as the Crown Prosecution Service. The force could now open an office for 12 or 18 months, and then move it elsewhere. "We wouldn't recover our investment in a fixed line in that time," Goodwin said.
The net result was that officers now spent more time out of the office and in the community, which is what neighbourhood policing is all about, Goodwin said.
Goodwin said the force hired bandwidth from commercial network operators such as BT, Global Crossing and Cable & Wireless. He said he was watching BT's roll-out of fibre-based broadband in Cornwall with interest, but it was coming too late for the force's remote stations.
Goodwin added that the Devon & Cornwall force was not yet "mobilised" in the sense that officers carried PDAs or tablet computers that were always-on.
"We struggle with mobile data because the distances mean that 3G coverage is not that good here," he said.
Goodwin said he was also watching the development of the Public Sector Network (PSN), a network of public sector networks. He said that although it was not yet a reality, the prospect was exciting. "It makes a lot of sense," he said.