Met Police IT systems cause higher crime in London, says scathing report

Crime rates in London are higher than they should be as a direct result of poor IT systems at the Metropolitan Police

Crime rates in London are higher than they should be as a direct result of poor IT systems at the Metropolitan Police, according to a highly critical report into the force’s use of technology.

The study by the London Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee said the Met’s £250m IT budget goes on technology that is “out-of-date, ineffective and overly-expensive”, and cites examples such as officers taking 30 minutes to login to computers, and having to re-enter information into 10 different systems.

The report said the Met spends 85% of its IT budget on “keeping the lights on” for legacy technology that often dates back to the 1970s. The force has 750 separate systems, of which 70% are “redundant” – a figure expected to rise to 90% by 2015 – at a time when budget cuts mean IT spending has to be cut by £60m within three years.

According to the report, one core Met Police operating system dates back to a 1970s baggage handling system.

“The Met does not use technology as well as it could. It has built up its current provision over a number of years without a coherent strategy. Crime is higher as a result and criminals with smartphones often have better technology than London’s police officers,” it said.

The report was released less than a week after former Met Police CIO Ailsa Beaton left the force. She stepped down as CIO in November last year, and has since been working on an assignment with the Home Office about the formation of the much-delayed new Police ICT Company.

Computer Weekly sources at the Met Police have indicated that Beaton’s departure from the CIO role followed soon after a critical internal report by consultancy Deloitte that is quoted widely in the London Assembly document.

Deloitte raised concerns about “the capacity and capability of the Met’s Directorate of Information” that Beaton led. A replacement is yet to be appointed.

“It is clear that the Met’s technology department – the Directorate of Information (DoI) – is still not making technology work for police officers,” said the London Assembly report.

“The Met recognises that the DoI is not organised in the right way, with the right skills; it also acknowledges that it needs to train and develop current staff, and possibly bring in new people.”

The report added: “The force has not had a coherent ICT strategy for years and senior leadership in this area has been lacking… Police officers lack the technology to do their jobs as productively and effectively as they could. Crime is higher as a result.”

The report, titled Smart Policing, lists across 48 pages a catalogue of failures in the Met’s IT strategy, such as:

  • Of 19 basic technology operating systems required by a constable to carry out frontline roles away from police stations, only one – mobile telephony – was consistently available and even that was not always effective.
  • A parallel IT infrastructure is in place at the Met - police officers use their personal smartphones since these can be more effective at helping them do their jobs than the kit provided to them.
  • The Met is taking longer than planned to develop its new ICT strategy – in December 2012 the plan was promised within 100 days; in April it was put back to publication in July; it is now due in October or November.
  • Outsourcing deals are locked into long contracts with a single supplier, and are not delivering value for money. Some 60% of IT spending goes to Capgemini in a £115m per year contract – the report recommends taking a different approach when that deal expires, expected to be by 2015.
  • The Met relies heavily on bespoke IT systems despite packaged applications being available. The bespoke IT is expensive, costly to maintain and difficult to upgrade.
  • The force has failed to collaborate with other police and London emergency services to find ways to cut IT costs, believing that “its size set it apart from other forces”.

The new IT strategy is being led by assistant commissioner Mark Rowley. In an interview with Computer Weekly earlier this year, he explained the importance of introducing technology that supports front-line officers.

“Our main systems are old and there is a lot of replacement that needs to be done, there is no doubt about that. But the aim shouldn’t be replacing systems – the aim is kit that helps officers fight crime, and if behind that sit systems that require them to help do it, then so be it,” he said.

Among the key areas for the new IT strategy will be better use of mobile technology, more social media engagement, and introducing data analytics for predictive crime mapping.

Rowley told Computer Weekly that the Metropolitan Police wants to roll out 30,000 mobile and tablet devices to officers. The devices will give instant access to key Met applications instead of having to return to base.

Some UK police forces have already begun trials of analytics software designed to forecast the time and place of future crimes.

John Biggs, chair of the London Assembly Budget and Performance Committee, said the force simply cannot afford to get its IT strategy wrong again.

“Every other person has a smartphone in their pocket and yet the Met are only just starting to look at rolling out similar tools. They should also be working on predictive crime mapping, like that used in Los Angeles, to get officers in the right place at the right time to deter criminals and reassure the public,” he said.

"Furthermore, if investment in ICT can improve productivity, which it clearly can, then hopefully we can move beyond the seemingly endless Mexican stand-off over police numbers and instead focus on overall capacity. Not cutting numbers, but making spending decisions based on the safest possible outcome from the resources we have. Such an approach is long overdue."

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