In my last post I requested responses from people on the potential new Police ICT Authority trailed by Theresa May at ACPO. I’ve also been talking to a few of my own contacts in this field.
I have to say I was rather amazed by the response. The following commentary is based upon those responses. It is a deliberate mashup of the comments and I will not attribute them, but it comes from thoughts and chats from either serving officers or civilian staff working in the Criminal Justice arena.
The overarching theme that I can see is…”well, how much worse can it get?”
At a high level, one person described IT as “one of the police’s biggest failings and money pits”.
This was backed up by the following examples:
Airwave radios on which staff can’t use the text function because of cost, black and white screens that are hard to view in direct sunlight, no email capacity, no photographic capacity and worse, only one user can talk at a time which has huge implications during longer transmissions for potential emergency ‘shouts’.
There appears to be a plethora of “self-built” standalone databases, copycat databases “borrowed” from other Forces, or databases purchased from outside firms bought piece meal so you only get part of the functionality. The feeling seems to be that these are not fit for purpose. I’m also aware of one force that has an organic intranet developed at great cost, but they forgot to include a search function in its functionality.
Rather more alarmingly, it seems the ability of forces to exchange data is actually really hard. In theory, the PNN/CJX should allow this and does for email, but that’s it (I’m also aware this is the case for exchange with the Courts and CPS). The reality is that in order to exchange information with other forces or agencies, that information has to be collated, put into an email, sent and then re-entered into a system at the other end. To quote: “We desperately need a cohesive and secure data storage and exchange (facility) nationwide”.
The general sense from frontline staff is that they struggle with systems that are outdated and don’t keep up with operational requirements. And I think that’s the key. This isn’t Robocop. We’re not providing tools for a cutting-edge technology fest. We are providing tools for people that don’t actually give a hoot what the tool is and how it works, just that it does its job.
Digital by default, E-Government and all the other movements/transformation programmes we’ve had are great, but only if they meet present and future operational requirements. My favourite line from one contact was: “… no-one consults the actual user groups before making any of these decisions”.
If you then pull out to a national level, frontline staff have been equally rude about NPIA and other top-level organisations. Another favourite quote was: “… NPIA spend public money ‘overhauling’ the police training etc. but not to any benefit, speaking as someone who has to work with the results!”
So, although I was quite rude about the new Police ICT organisation as a concept, it seems that operational requirements are not being met by the current set-up, so how can it get any worse?