A former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has said there should be more joint investment in ICT among police forces, possibly through a single national fund.
Lord Bernard Hogan-Howe (pictured) has proposed the move in the foreword of a new report on tech innovation for policing, Police Tech Pioneers, published by Public, a supporter of start-ups that provide technology for public services.
The report calls for action to give tech start-ups a better chance to sell into the policing market, including a refocusing of the Police Transformation Fund and the creation of a “neutral space” for police-vendor engagement.
Hogan-Howe goes along with the report’s assertion that smaller companies are more nimble in responding to what the police and public need, and says they should concentrate on the benefits of big data and automation to support decision-making.
But he says that the fractured nature of police spending on ICT has not been a good response to the way crime is committed across the forces’ boundaries.
“New technologies offer an opportunity to work better across borders and make common investments in small and big systems,” he says. “Presently, however, this is unlikely to happen.”
Mandation and spending
He says there are two possible long term solutions. One is to create a small number of forces and funds and encourage or mandate joint investment in ICT. The other, which he prefers, is to place the £850 million spent on the technology into a single fund, preferably with a national system to ensure complete interoperability.
This would “provide a vehicle for more uniform processes and thus better outcomes,” he says, adding: “There is a strong and credible pipeline of technology companies that could transform policing. We should work to make the pipeline larger and the Home Office should take a lead in championing new solutions and new companies.”
He also urges larger police forces to take a lead in adopting new technologies.
The Public report identifies 75 tech start-ups with the potential to support the sector in areas such as mapping and preventing violence, combating cyber crime, storing and analysing video evidence, applying predictive analytics, monitoring social media and providing new online reporting channels and platforms.
But it says the rate of adopting such solutions among UK police is still too slow, partly because smaller firms are disadvantaged by long term contracts with incumbent suppliers, and that there is scope for some policy interventions that could help to diversify the market.
APIs and interoperability
One of these is to create a framework for new start-up products, encouraged by the Home Office mandating open APIs and interoperability as a condition of all technology contracts. It could also place pressure on incumbents to open up their systems for smaller players to plug in their technology.
Second is to refocus the Police Transformation Fund to support seed funding for start-up initiatives, and indicate that it will be extended beyond 2020 to help police and crime commissioners prepare bids for projects beyond that date.
Another is to create the neutral space for engagement between technology firms and police, providing for a period of testing and play before big commitments are made. The report points to the experience of Canada where police vendor labs have enabled staff to interact with tech products and provide feedback before the procurement goes ahead. This would allow police officers to compare a range of products from different suppliers, it says.
Finally, there should be an effort to harness digital talent in police ranks, encouraging tech savvy junior staff to identify issues, develop fixes and help forces over the barriers.
Lessons for leaders
The report also outlines five lessons for police leaders in looking at new technology options:
- Engage the market long before you are ready to buy.
- Be clear about what you need and give feedback.
- Shiny new technology is not a silver bullet.
- Embrace some risk and be prepared to fail fast.
- Think big, buy small and tread softly. Do not expect a start-up to be able to scale up overnight.
Its executive summary concludes: “To meet future demands, policing desperately needs to embrace the agile, innovation led approach offered by start-ups. While the habits and structures of the policing ICT landscape are entrenched, and culture and habits have proved hard to shift in the past, change is possible and urgently needed.
“Critically, much more needs to be done to find new ways to catalyse a start-up friendly ecosystem in policing.”