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Police forces failing to keep technology up to date, says chief inspector's report

Police technology is “weak and aging”, says Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary Thomas Windsor, calling on forces to improve their IT

Police forces need to exploit digital technologies and use common IT programmes to keep up with criminals.

The State of Policing report – published by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, Thomas Windsor – found most police forces “failed to keep up with technological developments”.

Windsor said police forces must get ahead of technological developments to tackle crime.

“If the present rate of improvement in police technology continues, the police in 2020 will be even further behind offenders and the needs of the public,” he said.

“The public can neither tolerate nor afford law enforcement lagging ever farther behind.”

He added that, despite having raised this issue in previous reports, his team continued to find “too many instances where forces failed to keep up with technological developments”.

“Yet, the sea change that is required has not taken place.”

The report said that, although forces are introducing systems and mobile data equipment, these systems continue to lag behind those used by the public. It singles out command and control systems as “particularly old and inefficient”.

The Metropolitan Police was recently forced to stick with its 30-year old command and control system for a further three years, after failing to deploy a replacement system on time.

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Digital crime

Technological developments have paved the way for novel types of offence, such as cyber crime, and give criminals new ways of organising themselves.

“Technology has provided the means to commit crimes, such as the grooming of a child using the internet, as well as affording the criminal some disguise and protection,” the report said.

“Using technology to the police’s advantage is essential if today’s criminal is to be thwarted and apprehended.”

The report said that digital crime is no longer “the exclusive domain of a specialist squad”, and that all officers need to be trained in how to deal with digital crime.

“The public can neither tolerate nor afford law enforcement lagging ever farther behind.”

Collaboration is key

The report called on police forces to collaborate on a common IT programme “which facilitates simple and immediate communications between officers and their stations, between stations and their headquarters and between forces".

"It is the very least that is required,” said the report.

“It is essential that police and crime commissioners and chief officers commit to working collaboratively with the Police ICT Company radically to improve their combined capability to procure information technology systems to make this a reality.”

The Police ICT Company was set up last year with the aim of saving police forces up to £465m a year, through the central provision of national IT systems.

Police ICT Company CEO Martin Wyke said he agreed with the report, and police forces need to move away from “patchwork” IT.

“Good police ICT should improve efficiency by reducing the need for repetitive, routine tasks, allowing officers to concentrate on what they do best – protecting the public. We strongly believe the current patchwork police ICT model is no longer viable,” he said.

“As well as driving efficiencies we are also keen to encourage integration, collaboration and structural reform. This will require both harmonisation of business processes and information in order to allow true interoperability and adopting both national and regional approaches to technology.”

In January 2016, home secretary Theresa May critisised police forces for spending too much money on old, outdated systems. She announced plans to make emergency services collaboration mandatory and to legislate to join up back-office IT and control rooms.

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