Police Use Of ICT Is ‘Persistently Weak’ Finds Inspectorate of Constabulary

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Police aren’t making effective use of digital technologies to manage and share information, and risk being ‘left behind’

UK police forces show a “persistently weak” approach to the use of information technology that means its potential to improve information-sharing remains largely unrealised, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) argues in a new study.

In a preface to the 2016 State of Policing report, Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, noted “fragmented police use of technology” as one of the “major problems” facing police services, while the study found police were “far behind” other public sector bodies in their use of technology.

Communications barriers

Examples can be found of forces making good use of innovative technology, but such cases unfortunately remain an exception, HMIC said.

Within the police service forty-three separate local organisations often independently purchase, operate and make use of IT systems, making it difficult to form common standards for exchanging information, the study found.
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HMIC said efforts to allow police and crime commissioners (PCCs) to pool powers and make use of common standards for technology adoption were essential for improving the way information is exchanged.

“Until we have dissolved to nothing the remaining technological and human barriers that prevent law enforcement agencies from obtaining and using the information that others of them hold, lives could yet be shattered or even lost,” the inspectorate said in the report.

Bespoke systems

The increasingly prevalent use of complex IT systems in society means police organisations who fail to make full use of technology risk being “left behind”, the report found.

“The history of police use of ICT is not a distinguished story,” HMIC said. “A persistently weak approach to the adoption and implementation of technology is a longstanding problem, particularly with regard to timely access to high-quality intelligence.”

The study found some forces continue to pay “very significant amounts of money” for bespoke systems that can only be maintained by a few suppliers, and recommended a more standardised approach.

Last year the UK National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) published a 10-year plan laying a heavy emphasis on wider use of digital technologies and on training to combat Internet-based crime.

The strategy lays out plans for expanded use of digital technologies for communicating with police and reporting crime, a shift it said reflects changing public expectations.

A techUK study published last year found technology could be used to improve areas such as the online reporting and submission of digital evidence and recommended the police adopt cloud-based systems.

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