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HMIC says police forces are digital slouches

03/11/16

Efficiency report highlights a string of shortcomings with a call for forces to work closely with Police ICT Company

Police forces have been too slow at adopting digital technology and working practices, have not placed ICT at the centre of their thinking and are seriously short of skills in the area, according to the national regulator for the sector.

Police signHM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has laid out a damning criticism of their performance in the area as part of its annual report on police efficiency. The publication will add fuel to the perception that the police are not getting their act together with ICT, and that there is a need for a serious change in the mindset around the issue.

Among the report’s criticisms are that few forces are developing digital skills, and none are taking full advantages of what staff, community support officers, special constables and volunteers can provide.

Most do not have digital at the centre of their thinking, with ICT teams often disconnected from other parts of the organisation and, in the worst performers, ICT chiefs feeling unable to challenge senior officers. This sometimes leads to bad procurement, with forces buying devices and systems that are not sustainable or do not easily link with others.

Legacy problem

There is also a continuing problem with bespoke legacy systems that only a few people are able to maintain, and which often drain financial resources.

“In order to fix this, forces need to give serious thought to the architecture they are designing,” the report says.

While it avoids an over-prescriptive approach to solutions, saying there is plenty of scope for variation, it insists that systems should connect to each other and that wider use of off-the-shelf products would help.

This leads to a call for forces to work more closely with the Police ICT Company. “It is essential that police and crime commissioners and chief constables commit to working collaboratively with the Police ICT Company to bring about radical improvements to the use, procurement and role of information technology, especially in relation to their interoperability,” it says.

However, HMIC acknowledges that the organisation lacks a mandate and resources to push through changes.

NPCC potential

It also says the work the National Police Chiefs’ Council is doing on digital contact with the public, investigations and links to the wider criminal justice system could help.

The report reflects many of the issues raised in UKAuthority’s recent round tables and white paper for digital leaders in policing. The need for wider interoperability and more procurement of the off-the-shelf systems emerged as a major theme, and the former chief constable of Cambridgeshire Police, Simon Parr, has said that this needs a new information strategy to overcome the problems.

On a broader front, the HMIC report says the majority of police forces are doing a good job in identifying current demand and managing resources; but they need to do better at looking to future demand and developing the skills that will be needed to respond.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Mike Cunningham, who led the inspection, said: "There is still scope for forces to transform the way in which they operate and it is vital that the pace and urgency of change continues if we are to have a police force fit to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

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