Forces may have to conform in national interest

The Home Office last week took the first steps to address the problems that meant intelligence on Soham murderer Ian Huntley was...

The Home Office last week took the first steps to address the problems that meant intelligence on Soham murderer Ian Huntley was not shared among forces.

The policy document, Building communities, beating crime, said the Home Office would create a National Policing Improvement Agency that would, if necessary, "require forces to implement mission-critical objectives at a rate (and in a manner) that it deems appropriate".

The NPIA "will pay particular attention to operational support systems - including the application of science and technology", the policy said.

This means the agency could have the powers to make forces take on systems that are in the national interest. The Home Office policy document said the creation of the NPIA would mean significant change for the Police IT Organisation. Its chief executive, Phillip Webb, told Computer Weekly the move could enhance Pito's powers.

"The formation of the NPIA and [the future of] Pito are interrelated. It may be that the NPIA is given powers that assist Pito or vice versa," he said.

Another factor likely to alter Pito's role is a Home Office end-to-end review of IT provision in the police service. Webb said he had already spoken to the review chairman Robert McFarland about the difficulty Pito faces in creating national police systems.

Meanwhile, the review of police IT is taking place within the context of a £2bn overhaul of IT across the criminal justice system. Plans include integrated electronic case management across the courts, probation services, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The police are expected to share electronic case files with the courts before the end of 2005 as part of Tony Blair's e-government targets. Pito expects to provide this facility with its case and custody system, due to be completed by the end of March 2006.

Eleven forces are already using the system and Webb expected more to start using it in the coming year. Although not all forces will take up the system in the first phase, interfacing technologies would allow them to communicate with the courts and the rest of the police service, Webb said.

He includes this system in Pito's successes, along with Airwave, the national wireless voice and data system, which has now been accepted by most police forces, and a system to track violent sexual offenders which has gone live nationally.

Whether these successes are enough to avoid Pito being subsumed either into a broad criminal justice IT body or the Home Office NPIA will be for the review team to decide. Whatever the result, local forces' complete autonomy in IT decision making is set to end.

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