In the current economic climate the Police Service is one of many public bodies about to experience even deeper spending cuts at an already troubled time; public confidence in policing has been severely damaged, detection and charging rates have fallen and six police forces are in special measures due to poor performance prompting an inquiry by The Home Affairs Committee. (1)
The Police Service needs help; the cycle needs to be broken. Its not simply about saving money through spending cuts anymore. Considering the options for Police reform in terms of structure and governance is a thought piece for another day, but one solution that can help now is how we utilise technology. Technology penetrates every element of policing, from the types of crimes being committed to the way we interact with victims and gather evidence, right through to courts and prison system processes thereafter.
In order to aid efficiencies and work smarter, at the most basic level the Police Service needs to be able to automate a large proportion of their processes. Positive steps have been made in the crime recording space with the roll out of single online home (2) and in some forces the exploration of chatbots to relieve the pressure on control rooms (3). But the volume of information to be handled doesn’t stop there. The ease of public access to digital technology makes evidence gathering and reviewing a colossal task – smart phones and camera doorbells are two a penny, cloud data storage costs are next to nothing making unlimited communications data plans an easy choice for customers. Storing, indexing and reviewing all this evidence on top of “usual” evidence gathering in the form of witness statements and exhibits is overwhelming; the Police Service needs to widely utilise automatic search and processing tools.
Tens of technology systems are currently in existence to help manage the status quo. They exist under the umbrella of intelligence databases and case management solutions. Yet somehow, despite their existence, their functionality largely remains outdated. Automation is still quite rare and the Police still struggle to efficiently communicate and share information both internally and externally across county lines. This places an additional burden on already stretched resources and increases the risk of missing crucial evidence.
So why is it that so many systems and solutions are not fit for purpose? How can we make sure that technology is relevant, efficient and affordable? Too often we hear that a technical solution ended up being expensive and not befitting of user requirements; more money seemingly wasted at a time when this economic prudence should be at the forefront of our minds.
I would argue that what is needed is a shift in mindset. Pushed to the limits, we need to challenge the perception that the apparent uniqueness of the Police Service requires custom built technology. Because the hidden costs of such solutions can run into tens of thousands if not millions. We need to rethink our use of COTs and contemplate how forces can flex a little in order to receive the many benefits associated with a managed service (e.g. security, ongoing support, upgrades and fixes, ability to respond to change). In the wake of the Police Digital Strategy, one might argue that the more we can align our technological objectives with a common strategy with key pillars of scalability and interoperability, the greater likelihood of success in the form of an enduring capability – a capability that provides efficiency, information sharing and most importantly positions the Police Service in a way that keeps up with the pace at which technology changes.