Interview: Matthew Ellis, police and crime commissioner for Staffordshire, says its new IT partnership with Boeing could be significant for cross-agency working
Talk to Matthew Ellis about IT in policing, and he's eager to talk about how it ties up with healthcare, social services and education. The police and crime commissioner for Staffordshire is committed to the cause of more joint working, and he believes that the new partnership deal with Boeing is a step towards making it happen.
It was last month that his office confirmed that the company would act as strategic partner for Staffordshire Police under a 10-year, £110 million contract said to be the first of its kind for a UK police force.
The deal is primarily focused on policing, but there is an element that takes it into the realm of a multi-sector procurement framework.
“We've done the contract so that any other public organisation in Staffordshire or on its boundaries can join in,” Ellis says. “It doesn't have to be procured a second time.
“Any police service in the country can join on to what we've done from the policing point of view, but I think we've got to be a bit less precious in public services, break the idea that we have to have our own version.
“We're in talks with a couple of big local authorities in Staffordshire to see how we can come together. We've been in talks with fire but I think that's pretty much run out of mileage. But the local authorities are very up for much more joined up endeavour and trying do things once over, rather than three or four times independently.”
It is a familiar vision, but one that seldom comes from policing where the priorities are focused on fighting crime, but Ellis provides a rationale for the view.
He makes the point that the police are caught up in the tangle of social problems to the same degree as local authorities and healthcare trusts, and talks about breaking out of silos and joining up information better to increase the chances of at least one agency intervening before a damaging incident occurs. The nature of the deal with Boeing reflects this.
Ellis says it is also a step towards a more coherent IT structure for the Staffordshire force. When he took on the role four years ago the organisation had 400 different systems, many of which were outdated and are now out of support, and the force relied on consultancies for different projects.
“It was a difficult set of circumstances, with no real strategy around technology, and the need for a radical approach. So we needed a fresh start and a new vision,” he says.
The emphasis in drawing up the contract was on specifying desired outcomes rather than details of systems and equipment. There were expressions of interest from 52 companies, and while Boeing – better known for defence and aerospace – had no significant footprint in policing it apparently fitted Ellis's vision.
“One of the attractions for Boeing is that they are outcome faced rather than outsource faced,” he says. “It goes beyond technology to their ability to scenario plans, to look at a whole system and change bits of it.
“They've just done something on criminal justice where you can change determinants in a system and see how it affects the whole. It's looking at public services at a whole system rather than bits of a system.”
Some progress had already been made in upgrading the force's IT capability before the contract was signed: it had rolled out mobile devices and bodycams, and the Spirit GPS system to provide a real time of the location of its vehicles and assets. But there is a lot more to do.
One step will be reducing the 400 systems down to 90-100, aimed at simplifying their management and providing savings, and to shift them as far as possible to the use of open standards to support the joining up of information.
The critical systems that need upgrading are for police intelligence, telephony, and online public engagement, and thee is work to be done with the core systems used by officers on the beat.
“There are going to be about 40 systems, and at the moment we have about 20 apps on,” Ellis says. “The next bit is about translating that easier access to information to core systems that manage it, so they only have to put the information in once rather than for each system. One touch entry is the primary result I want to see.
“That doesn't go anywhere near how we integrate policing with the wider criminal justice system. But we should in the next two or three years be able to get video evidence from a bodycam into court within a few hours. That would make a huge difference.”
Another element will be to pursue the development of mobile apps. Earlier this month the force launched Staffordshire Smart Alert, an app developed with Neighbourhood Watch members and community messaging company Owl, which provides crime alerts to people and businesses.
Police and community support officers have been trained to send alerts while out on the beat, and the service includes incident numbers and contact details to encourage users to get in touch with the police if they have any relevant information.
Ellis says it has had a very positive response so far, especially from young people, and that he believes it can be taken further.
“The next bit will be the ability for the police to use GPS to draw a 500 metre circle on a map and alert anyone who has signed up within that circle to keep an eye open for an offender or evidence.
“It's the ability to get the public working with the police at a much more defined geographical level. That ability to be so precise on location and bring in so many people could really turn the tables.”
He also has an eye on the long term potential of joining up with other service providers, and comes back to the need to make better use of information from a number of sources.
“Police officers have mobile devices now, and my vision is that they have a 360 degree view of the world. They could potentially have information from housing providers, if somebody with mental health issues has been in touch with the police a lot.
“Knowledge is the driver to good services, but it has to be in real time and has to be all the knowledge rather than bits of it.”