Police forces are failing to put IT at the centre of their work, set data-sharing plans or ensure staff have good digital skills, a review has said.
In its 2016 review of police efficiency, published this week, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary identified a significant gap in digital skills in the police force.
“Very few forces are focusing on developing their officers’ and staff’s digital skills, despite a universal acceptance that digital skills are becoming an increasingly important part of police work,” the HMIC said.
Although the report said that there is a “positive picture” overall, with most forces graded as good or outstanding, it said that the broader context in which policing sits meant that forces will need to develop skills they “do not necessarily have”.
The review said that it was “disappointing that only a small number of forces have a sufficiently clear sense of the skills (for example, digital skills) that they are looking for in new recruits”.
In addition, the review looks at the state of the technology used by the police forces in England and Wales, concluding that they have “much to do” to catch up with current technology, noting that they struggle with the range of different ICT systems and that “very few” have a coherent plan to transform the way they use their systems.
“Too many forces still rely on bespoke outdated ICT systems and continue to invest very significant amounts of money in devices and systems that their ICT infrastructure cannot cope with” and that only a small number of individuals know how to maintain, the review said.
“In order to fix this, forces need to give serious thought to the ICT architecture that they are designing,” it said.
“This is more important, and more difficult, than the effective procurement of individual devices. Continuing to invest very significant amounts of money in devices and systems that their ICT architecture cannot handle is too common.”
The review called on forces to produce “clear, mandated ICT network standards within which individual forces can operate flexibly”.
HMIC also sounded a note of caution against police forces becoming complacent after they had their funding protected in real terms at last year’s spending review, saying forces must not lose sight of the importance of greater collaboration, especially because of budget pressures on local councils.
Rather, the funding settlement should allow forces to invest in new ICT systems, replacing the legacy systems that are currently stopping from responding effectively to crime, and help them make spending reductions in the long term.
Such work should also focus on improving the way forces share data and information, suggesting that they work with national organisations, such as the Police ICT Company, to establish standards on sharing both ICT systems and data.
“While in many other ways policing is taking important steps to improve professionalism, efficiency and organisational structures, it is now urgent that forces establish consistent standards on how they can share ICT systems and data.”
The review also points to some examples of good practice, such as Avon and Somerset Constabulary, which analyses the calls it receives to produce a digital map of its workforce against projected demand to help predict offending peaks and identify people with heavy workloads.
HMIC said it will review the efficiency of policing in England and Wales again next year, and that it expects to see “significant developments in the scale and ambition of forces’ plans to predict and meet demand as crime evolves”.