The Metropolitan Police wants to roll out 30,000 mobile and tablet devices to officers this year, the force's assistant commissioner Mark Rowley told Computer Weekly.
The news comes as the Met faces a £500m reduction in its annual budget of £3bn, while maintaining police numbers of around 32,000. “We have to spend less on technology but also our technology is not great,” Rowley said.
“We are just refreshing the strategy at the moment. I want to get to a position where the majority of officers have smartphones supplied by the organisation. If we could get 30,000 smart devices/tablets out there this year that would be great. Whether we can pull that off, frankly I don’t know yet,” he said.
Better exploitation of the organisation’s information will be a key part of the Met’s Police and Crime Plan due to be published in April, said Rowley.
"What we know is enormous, within our servers. But the amount of that information in the hands of PC Smith, or DC Jones when he or she is making a decision on the street, or a senior officer is making deployment decisions, is miniscule in comparison,” he said.
Most of the mobile technology that police use, such as PDAs and mobile data terminals in cars, has become too clunky, said Rowley: “Do they really help officers in a spectacular way do things differently? With one exception, probably not,” he said, referring to the automatic number plate recognition technology installed in officers’ cars.
The Met’s secure radio system Airwave has also come under fire in the past for being unreliable.
“This kit is lagging further and further behind,” said Rowley. “Officers are already using their own smartphone devices to circumvent the fact that the kit we provide them with isn’t good enough. Where we would like to get to is most of our officers having mobile smart devices, probably supplied by the organisation, that give them access to real-time information."
Apps will also play a key part in the strategy: “It would be much easier for an officer to have an app that went through the process of the details they need to collect, the enquiries they need to make, and the advice they need to give, along with electronically being able to pass on crime prevention advice.”
Greater use of smartphones would also reduce back-office costs of people inputting data, and generating analysis and reports for officers.
“If they have access to that information they can do it themselves. There’s quite a lot of streamlining if you can set the officer to have everything at their fingertips, wherever they are, whatever their role is,” said Rowley.
But regardless of the cost savings involved, he said mobile deployments would be necessary in better equipping officers to do their jobs: “And frankly, however many officers we have, we want them to be as well-equipped as possible."
Last year, Nottinghamshire Police said it saved over £1m and increased front-line policing after launching a programme to give officers mobile devices to connect with back-office systems in 2007.
The project enabled officers to connect to systems such as command and control, the Police National Computer and specialist criminal intelligence databases, while away from the police station.
But that example came just a week after a 2012 report from the National Audit Office, which revealed the £80m roll-out of mobile devices across police forces had failed to achieve value for money with only “a basic level of benefits.”