A damning report from MPs has said that the vast number of incompatible IT systems within the UK’s 43 police forces is hindering the fight against crime.
The Home Office report, entitled “New Landscape of Policing” describes the current ICT setup as not fit for purpose, because the 43 forces have between them a multiplicity of different IT systems and IT contracts, many of which are not compatible with one another.
Indeed, it pointed out that £1.2 billion is currently spent on ICT for police in the UK, and that there are 5,000 staff working on 2,000 different ICT systems.
“IT across the police service as a whole is not fit for purpose, to the detriment of the police’s ability to fulfil their basic mission of preventing crime and disorder,” said the report. “The Home Office must make revolutionising police IT a top priority. This is one area of policing where direction from the centre is not only desirable but vital in order to effect change.”
It pointed to her speech to the Association of Chief Police Officers in early July, when she stated “it is absolutely clear that the current system is broken.”
The Home Secretary then revealed her intention to create a police-led ICT (Information and communication technologies) company to lead tech procurement for British police forces.
But the MPs warned that it is not yet possible to reach a conclusion about the viability of the government’s plan for a police IT procurement company to replace the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA), because there was so little detail available about it.
The report did admit there are advantages to a single body overseeing police IT, providing it has the right commercial and technical expertise. But the report also suggested that the main reason for the Home Office setting up a procurement company is to avoid EU procurement rules.
“It seems that a key reason for it being considered that a company is the best kind of body to perform this role is that it will not be subject to EU procurement rules,” said the report.
This is because there are EU procurement directives that apply to purchases above certain monetary thresholds made by the public sector and some utilities companies, but which would not apply to purchases made by a company.
If a company makes the procurement therefore, the whole procurement process should be a lot quicker, but potentially less open.
The MPs used the report to urge the home secretary to update Parliament about the proposed company by December at the latest.
Despite the concerns about the state of overall ICT systems for the police, there have been some positive developments of late.
In June the police finally set up a database that allowed police forces around the country to share and access locally-held intelligence. Until then, information about criminals had to be shared manually between police forces, a process that could take up to two weeks.
And in May the Metropolitan Police revealed it has begun to utilise an online procurement website to help it procure goods and services.
And earlier this year, the NPIA teamed up with IT specialist Recipero to integrate the National Mobile Phone Register into the Police National Computer. While in the past, police officers had to ask their control room to conduct a search of the register to determine whether a handset had been stolen, this new system allows them access this database from a smartphone whilst out on the beat.