When I joined the police a crime report was an A4 sized document, printed in landscape and had about 4 self carbonating copies behind it. I’m pretty sure all forces were on ‘paper’ at this point in history but the variety of formats, layouts and style will all have been different. 43 forces all had a different idea about what a crime report should look like and be.
The same principle applied to everything. Missing from home reports, report forms, RTA forms custody records and more. Every force did it differently. The same could be found in terminology. One force would call a crime a crime book, some a crime report, others abbreviated to an ROC and many just by the form number. We call offences different things too. Taking a conveyance without consent has always been TWOC to me but some forces refer to it as UTMV (unlawful taking of a motor vehicle) or TADA (take and drive away). Even within forces there could be differences in the way policing was conducted between separate divisions. This is still evident now, not so much in my experience, but still there. My team of officers was referred to as a group. Yet across the force other divisions referred to themselves as a block or even a scale.
There was never really a joined up approach on a national scale for policing. Of course there were the basics like mutual aid arrangements but as far as working together went and everyone dancing to the same tune… well quite frankly.. it didn’t.
When I joined the police the only computers I saw were in the custody office. They had two of them. One was the PNC terminal and one was the local CRO (criminal records office). The control room was entirely paper based and the nick did not have any computers at all.
Slowly but surely computers started to trickle in. They had been in the private sector for years and were quite advanced (at least in the sense of mid 90’s technology). Ours on the other hand looked like they had been used by Noah! Slow, clunky, Windows for Workgroups, 15″ CRT monitors that needed a forklift truck to move and floppy discs were the order of the day.
We eventually got software to manage the incidents in the control room. We could see the list of jobs in the nick which was helpful. We also got email access. Some three years later there were many cops who hadn’t touched the email system. This was exacerbated further by an ingrained culture that written reports and faxes were the only means of communication.
The take up of technology by the police has been woefully slow. I joined my current force in 2005. On arrival, nobody, NOBODY, had access to the internet! When I mentioned it I was met with much teeth sucking and shaking of heads like a plumber providing an estimate. A colleague I worked with had transferred to a Scottish force at the same time as me. I sent him an email, based on the standard format of police emails, to see how he was getting on. The emails bounced. I later made contact by other methods and established that email hadn’t even been rolled out in his new force. In 2006!
We have caught up… a little. Our access to technology at the station has improved massively. The machines are better, faster and more capable but even now they are eons behind the cutting edge. My machine runs Windows 7 and IE8. If I want Flash to show a website properly I need IT to install it. Many websites do not present as they should in IE8 because it’s out of date. Compared to my 3/4 year old MacBook Pro at home it is, quite frankly, totally outclassed.
That said we all know how a bang up to the minute computer can be out of date within 6 months. Technology has exploded and moves very quickly. Only those with bottomless pits of cash can keep up. Something the police have never had and are quite honestly, never likely to have.
But as we have used technology across the country we have replicated all the same issues we had with paper forms and procedures. 43 forces have all pulled in different directions. My computer at work will be entirely different to a colleagues in the Met or Cornwall. It may have a different operating system and will definitely have different software. Custody and crime recording software around the country varies dramatically. Whether hardware or software, each force has sourced its own solutions at local level, even to the point of “bespoke” packages.
Some forces are now starting to use the same software. It’s a start. I can remember ringing an out of force custody suite to ask for a copy of the custody record of a transferred prisoner. They should have sent one but forgot. The Sgt apologised. He couldn’t send a patrol 180 miles to deliver it. I established we used the same system. “Email it to me” I said. “I don’t know how to do that” came the reply. I talked him through it step by step and the problem was solved. Easy. This wouldn’t have been possible on different systems. Yet there are problems with systems that get used by a number of forces. They all want different things from it. So national user groups get set up where changes are put forward and adopted or rejected. This can put blockers in the way of actually getting things done.
In summary, the police could have saved millions of £’s nationally many years ago if they had got their heads together and collaborated properly on IT hardware and software requisition. Bulk purchasing and a whole bunch of systems that actually talk to one another without fixes, patches and workarounds.
The curve of information technology is rising rapidly. Increasing numbers of people are conducting their lives online in digital spaces. So are the criminals. The police cannot afford to be playing catchup. The device you are reading this blog on be it a desktop PC, a laptop, tablet or phone is likely to be far more advanced than anything your local cop has official access to.
Mobile technology is the big thing for policing. Giving officers the ability to update systems and conduct checks from where they are. This in essence negating the need to go back to the station and therefore remain on patrol, out and about and within their communities. Sounds good but what will we get with ever diminishing budgets? The best device for the job or the one we can afford?
Some forces are already moving toward this and have some systems in place. Maybe not forcewide and to everyone but it’s a start right? PCC’s have recently applied to the Home Office to access an innovation fund to get mobile technology moving in their force. Another good step? Maybe not.
By offering out funds to indivudual forces is the Home Office likely to replicate all the same issues? Forces will probably go their own way. In some cases they already are. This will lead to a plethora of devices on different platforms with different software that don’t talk to one another. The net result is no progress at all.
There is a new police technology company to be set up. Its been talked about for some time and is not new for those who can remember PITO. It’s role and remit seems to fit what was needed years ago but I don’t think it’s operational yet. It may solve all our problems; it may not. In the meantime we cannot afford to wait. This is engenders a back to front approach to solving the problems. PCCs will spend the cash and try to create a local solution that leaves us exactly where we are now.
I’m a bit old school. If the police want me to arrest people then they need to provide me with the tools to do it. If they want me to use a radio to talk to the control room they need to provide it. They can’t ask me to provide it myself. Having said that I currently drive all over the county to deliver training using my own car and I’m recompensed with a mileage rate. With my social media use I utilise my own phone and my own data connection. Why? Because it works, doesn’t impact on my personal limits, makes my life easier, allows me to get on with my job and is infinitely better than anything the force can provide. I’m not recompensed for this use.
Maybe the best way to get cops onto mobile data is via their own devices? There are clearly some issues around security of data, lost devices and so on but what if the device were to be checked off and approved? What if a national cross platform solution was sourced that allowed all cops access to a secure network that was capable of national access but had local restrictions? What if the officer had a payment made to them or tax relief to purchase, connect and use their own device? Pretty much every cop and PCSO on duty has a device they carry with them that they could use.
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is probably a dirty word in policing at the moment but there are many officers already doing this for free (at least in relation to phone calls and social media). Perhaps, in order to keep up with the technology curve that is currently outstripping us, we need to think not about national procurement solutions but in a completely radical and new way altogether?