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Police spending too much on outdated IT systems, Theresa May says

Police ICT reform is “gritty and unglamorous” but necessary to tackle crime, according to home secretary Theresa May

Police ICT reform is “gritty and unglamorous” but necessary to tackle crime, according to the home secretary Theresa May.

May has called on police forces to “exploit the potential of technology” and use it to drive efficiency and innovation.

Speaking at the Police ICT Company’s suppliers summit on 27 January, May said that police IT needs “sorting out” and that it has taken too long to take that challenge seriously.

“Too much money is still spent on expensive, fragmented and outdated systems,” she said.

“Police officers all too often use technology that lags woefully behind what they use as consumers. And there is an unacceptable lack of digital join-up with the criminal justice system and other agencies.”

Earlier in the week, the Home Office announced plans to make emergency services collaboration mandatory and legislate to join up back-office IT and control rooms.

May said it’s up to chief constables and police and crime commissioners (PCCs) to make sure the money is spent wisely. “The vast majority of chief police officers and PCCs are not IT experts – and we don’t expect them to be.

“We know that suppliers are frustrated too by the fragmented and complicated police market. In particular SMEs – who can often have the most innovative ideas – can be deterred by the complexity. But that does not mean that this type of reform is not important.”

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May challenged the police and its suppliers to “be ambitious in shaping the future”, and said there is an “ever growing demand for officers who can carry out digital investigations” and analyse data. “Our ambition must be for every frontline officer to have the ability to capture digital evidence and to carry out basic digital investigations. Such capabilities can no longer be the preserve of specialist units alone.”

She added that when the government came to power, police forces were spending £1bn a year on IT, with 2,000 different systems in 42 forces. This figure has since improved, she added, with the spend on police IT in England and Wales coming in at around £600m in 2015/16.

The Home Office is responsible for 21 national policing systems, with costs estimated to be around £104m excluding the Airwave contract.

With the help of IBM, it has also consolidated 122 contracts for analytic services with more than 50 government organisations into one contract, May said.

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