The Athena police IT system has come under sharp criticism with claims that it is hindering officers in their efforts to manage the legal process for alleged offenders.
A report on BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire programme has included a series of anonymous comments from serving officers that they face lengthy delays in using the system and that some criminal cases are being dropped because of the problems.
Athena is a police intelligence and case management system used by nine forces – Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk, Warwickshire and West Mercia – and supplied by Northgate Public Services. It was introduced early in the decade in the move to improve information sharing within and between police forces.
According to the reports the intelligence function has been working successfully, but the case management is difficult and slow to use and has often been taken down while patches are added to the system.
In the worst instances it has led to criminal cases being dropped because of the problems, some of the officers claimed.
Some also said it has been a major source of stress among officers having to rely on the system.
Essex solicitor Caroline Woodley told the programme that the problems are slowing down the booking process so alleged offenders sometimes go hours without access to a solicitor or a risk assessment.
Challenges and complexity
Northgate issued a statement, reported on the BBC, saying: “As with any major IT undertaking, some challenges have been encountered. Athena connects to and relies on many components of IT, which makes it a complex solution.
“We recognise there are a small number of areas of the solution where improvements can be made and we apologise for any difficulties this has caused.”
Simon Kempton, a principal officer of the Police Federation, was critical of the system’s performance and said there has not been sufficient testing of IT systems before procurements have been confirmed. But he also acknowledged that it does bring benefits and that the police forces involved are taking the problems seriously.
He also made the case for APIs to support information sharing between police systems but said that so far suppliers have been reluctant to make them available.
The other widely used police IT system is Niche, supplied by Canadian company Niche Technology, for which the Police ICT Company has been running the Minerva programme to improve interoperability between forces.
Image: Matty Ring, CC BY 2.0 through flickr