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Police IT failings ‘let crooks slip the net’



HMIC report points to fractured national digital estate and failures to exploit skills

Offenders could still be slipping through the police net due to a continued failure to ensure IT systems are interoperable on a national scale, the national regulator of police forces has warned.

Sir Thomas Winsor, chief inspector of constabulary, has sounded the warning in his latest State of Policing report, rounding up the PEEL (police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy) assessments for each of the country’s 43 forces.

It says that, while there have been improvements since the Bichard report of 2002 slammed the lack of interoperability between forces’ IT systems, the service as a whole is still well short of having nationally accessible systems.

“The principles of perfect, timely and affordable interoperability need to be applied by all agencies concerned with public safety, not only the police,” it states.

“Given that not enough in law enforcement has changed, it is possible that offenders could still be slipping through the net.”

Regional bright spots

It is more encouraging about initiatives on a regional level, pointing to examples such as Hampshire Constabulary and Thames Valley Police sharing a chief technology officer, with plans to extend the arrangement to Sussex and Surry Police.

It adds that this does not mean every force should have exactly the same systems, as long as they can efficiently connect to each other and exchange information. In addition, it would save money compared with buying bespoke systems.

One of the solutions, it indicates, is in forces paying much more attention to the terms of the Strategic Policing Requirement in regard to IT. There should also be a network code, a decision-making mechanism for setting up, revising and abolishing common operating standards and procurement.

There is also a role for suppliers in ensuring that forces understand the practicalities and economies in IT developments.

Poor tech use

The report also says that overall the use of technology is still poor, with too many forces retaining bespoke systems that only a few people know how to maintain, and a lack of interoperability on a national scale.

Forces need to think more deeply about their IT architecture rather than focusing on the procurement of devices, and make sure that the have enough officers and staff able to make use of the technology.

“Very few forces are focusing on developing the digital skills of their officers and staff, despite a universal acceptance that digital skills are increasingly important part of police work,” the report states.

“Fewer still ensure that ICT and new technology are at the heart of their day-to-day work. In most cases, forces’ ICT was designed to support their existing processes, rather than shaping new and more efficient ways of working.”

It highlights some cases of good practice, such as Cleveland Police using data from several organisations to create maps showing where there is a high demand on their resources or high risk. In Cumbria, police officers have tablet computers with internet access and digital maps for locating incident scenes quickly, updating command and control systems and circulating photographs of missing people.

But “the equipment still lags far behind the technology that officers use in their own homes and cars”.

This is all underpinned by a culture that is still too insular and protectionist, with chief constables not giving sufficient priority to common ways of working and disseminating intelligence.

Recruitment waste

The report also warns that forces are too slow in recruiting enough people from the ‘digital natives’ generation with the skills to police the internet, investigate digital crime or make effective use of new technology.

“Rapid technological change creates new opportunities to investigate crime and apprehend suspects, but forces are all too often overwhelmed by it, leading to backlogs of digital devices waiting to be examined and evidence waiting to be assessed,” it states.

“Forces urgently need to recruit and train a workforce that is fit for digital future.”

Image from iStock

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