Public safety ‘imperilled’ by lack of interoperable police ICT network

2016 State of Policing report calls for a single decision-making mechanism for ICT to bring forces into the technological age after years of isolationism and protectionism

Isolationism has prevented forces from combining expertise and intelligence – Photo credit: Flickr, police_mad_liam, CC BY 2.0

Police forces are “particularly far behind many other organisations” in their use of technology, and further delays put public safety at risk, the UK’s constabulary inspectorate has said.

The 2016 State of Policing report, which is published annually and is based on a series of assessments throughout the year, condemns the poor state of technology and its use in police forces across the country.

It is the latest in a series of damning reports into the state of technology use by the police, which is noted in the overall assessment, written by Thomas P Windsor, the chief inspector of the constabulary.

“For more than 20 years, successive reports from the Police Information Technology Organisation, the Home Office Police Research Group, the Association of Chief Police Officers and HMIC have highlighted major concerns about police ICT systems,” Windsor wrote.

He said that examples of forces using innovative technology “are too few and far between”, and that there has been a “persistently weak” approach to technology in the police force.

Among the technological problems identified across the 43 forces are the use of bespoke systems that only a small number of people know how to maintain; spending money on devices and systems that ICT architecture can’t handle; and a lack of tech skills or confidence.

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In addition, there are a series of human barriers to adoption of technology, with Windsor saying that a “culture of insularity, isolationism and protectionism” has prevented forces from making the most of the technology available to them.

“Policing is no longer all local,” he said. “There have never been 43 best ways to specify, acquire or use technology.

“Used well, modern technology should give the police an unprecedented ability to exchange, retrieve and analyse intelligence. But that is only possible if the intelligence is made available in the first place.”

These technological and cultural barriers are preventing the police from obtaining and using the information from other forces, Windsor said.

“Until the police service has a fully functional, interoperable system of ICT networks, efficiency and effectiveness are impaired, public safety is imperilled,” he said, adding that “lives could yet be shattered or even lost”.

As an example, Windsor pointed to the 2002 Soham murders, when “failures to make reliable and timely intelligence available across force boundaries meant that opportunities to prevent these murders were missed”.

“Until the police service has a fully functional, interoperable system of ICT networks, public safety is imperilled.”

And, although the report identified areas of good practice, such as use of maps to identify high-risk or demand areas or use of tablets to circulate photos of missing people, Windsor said that such technology “is hardly cutting edge”.

To address the pervasive problem of technology in the police force, Windsor called for a national-level decision-making network to establish, revise and abolish common operating standards and procurement of ICT.

The idea is to allow forces pool their resources to make the most of technology, with a focus on common standards and interoperability, and Windsor noted that this approach had had some success on a regional level.

Hampshire Constabulary and Thames Valley Police have a shared chief technology officer, for instance, while Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire have pooled their ICT budgets and have a single ICT lead for all three forces.

Windsor said that although he wasn’t calling for all forces to have the same ICT system, bespoke solutions tend to be more expensive and increased use of off-the-shelf products would help “simplify procurement, reduce costs and increase consistency”.

The report said that chief constables must “fully commit” to working collaboratively with both each other and the Police ICT Company, which is working to increase interoperability of systems and procurement processes.

There is also a role for ICT suppliers to ensure that the practicalities and economies of technology developments are properly understood, Windsor said.


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