Innovation and changeGovernment TechnologyChaotic IT hampering police efforts

Chaotic IT hampering police efforts

The IT glitches and poor planning hampering Britain’s police forces have been revealed in a new survey sponsored by the Police Federation.

The IT glitches and poor planning hampering Britain’s police forces have been revealed in a new survey sponsored by the Police Federation.

The research has revealed that only half (50%) of the UK’s police officers say they can rely on the information held on their forces’ computer systems, while just 65% are able to access a computer at work when they need to.

The findings, which probably don’t come as a shock to many, are unveiled in the Police ICT survey of 48 forces run by Policing Insight, with input from the Police Federation of England and Wales’ technology lead Simon Kempton.

It paints a damning picture of growing frustration on frontline policing with outdated kit, patchy service and incompatible computer systems needlessly hindering criminal investigations and affecting officers’ ability to do their jobs.

The survey also revealed:
•    Nearly two thirds (63%) were unhappy with the quality and timing of training they needed to use the equipment
•    55% were not happy with their force’s overall ICT
•    only 30% felt their force invested wisely in technology
•    and just 2% were completely satisfied with their ICT services

One chief officer from a small rural force did not see his phone and laptop as an investment, saying: “It may as well be gathering dust or stopping a table from wobbling; getting a signal is also an issue.”

Another police staff member complained of having to use up to 20 different police and external database systems, with an equal number of passwords and user names to keep track of. She added: “As far as I’m aware none of these systems are able to talk to one another”. And a PC based on a Response team in a rural area said he was forced to return to the police station after every incident to complete updates.

The problems are particularly dire for the front line, with the majority of problems being reported from response and neighbourhood teams, as well as CID.

Kempton, who recently spoke about ‘the near-farcical state of the police service’s relationship with technology’ said: “The overall picture is not a pretty one with officers trying to fight crime with out-of-date equipment which is not even compatible with the systems used in neighbouring forces.

“Procurement is also a massive issue, with millions being wasted on the wrong equipment – as one  Superintendent in the survey puts it, they take years developing systems which too often fail to deliver when off the shelf products would do in 80-90% of cases right away.

“Poor training provision is another problem area, as is pointless duplication with officers forced to input the same data multiple times on separate systems. In 2018, when we are surrounded by virtual reality products, people are using driverless cars and robots are carrying out life-saving operations, this lack of joined-up functionality in policing is a disgrace.”

Disparity

Kempton added that he was also concerned about the disparity between the way frontline officers and senior management were treated.

He said:” Policing is not 9-5, it is a 24-hour 365-day job which requires 24-hour solutions. Not only do senior officers seem to have access to better equipment, but in many cases they get their problems ironed out a lot quicker too. But that’s no good for busy Response teams at 2am who are told their IT help desk went home at 5pm.

“There are some areas of improvement, for example access to computer terminals has risen, but much more still needs to be done. Government, police and crime commissioners, chief officers and ICT providers should take heed of this survey and work together to take back the initiative from criminals who, at the moment, are one step ahead of us when it comes to technology.”

Nearly 4,000 officers of all ranks and police staff took part in the survey commissioned by police governance organisation CoPaCC, which sought views from both officers and police staff from forces across the UK including those of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, British Transport Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and Ministry of Defence police.

CoPaCC CEO Bernard Rix said: “It’s clear from the survey that police ICT users aren’t always impressed with “shiny new ICT systems”. They are more concerned about printers that work, bandwidth that is sufficient for the systems they use, and an ICT helpline that can help to fix their problems when they need it, not just during standard office hours. Throughout the working week, not just for Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. The comparison with last year’s survey has enabled us to see that there has been a very slight improvement, for example in providing more mobile devices. But on the whole it is still the same picture as last year, which is disappointing. More needs to be done.”

Mobile apps

Responding to the findings, Peter Wilson, VP Operations at Coeus Software said: “The Police Federation’s findings reflect the conversations we have with Police forces every single day. We have spent a lot of time and investment in understanding the challenges of digital transformation within the Police Service. Officers have told the Federation that they are exasperated by the sheer quantity of different databases and systems they need just to complete the simplest of tasks, such as searching intelligence and criminal records and then having to assimilate the information quickly, all with different login details.

“We agree that an overall strategic vision is needed to deliver the services that Police officers want, but with some Forces operating independently of each other, this will need to be pushed through at national level. Simplifying police IT appears to be a priority for the Home Office right now, but will take time and so forces need a solution that works today. By giving officers all the tools they need to capture, report and gather intelligence data from a single portal on their smartphone (via mobile apps), they have a reason to use their smartphone.

“It is also worth pointing out that this issue is not unique to the Police. Many other sectors, in particular those in compliance-based and regulated industries, also face the same problem. Those in healthcare, transport and housing are also battling with data spread across multiple systems, and the need to coordinate and share this data with third parties in real-time. While modernisation continues to filter from the top, mobile platforms can help these organisations to digitise their operations now, quickly, and at significantly lower risk than expensive transformation projects.”

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