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Police data sharing plan faces the chop

Confusion over database plans

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A major chunk of the plan to improve police databases in the wake of the Bichard enquiry into the Soham murders is expected to be dropped by the Home Secretary within weeks.

Doubt also remains about the final deadline of the Police National Database (PND), the final aim of the Bichard reforms, dubbed collectively as Impact, which had already slipped three years to 2010.

A spokeswoman for the National Police Improvement Agency, which replaced the Police Information Technology Organisation (Pito) over the weekend, confirmed that problems with existing police databases unearthed post-Bichard meant the Cross Region Information Sharing Project (Crisp), one of the key Police responses to Bichard, had become unfeasible. The Home Secretary is currently considering a final decision on the project, which aims to improve data sharing between police forces.

One of the spanners in the works is the poor quality of existing police data, she said. Police quality procedures for inputting, maintaining, and sharing data will not become compulsory until 2010, a year later than planned, and these will be essential for a centralised police database to be workable.

Meanwhile, the Impact Nominal Index, a hash of existing police databases that merely tells officers if data on a subject is available on another force's database, is being rolled out around Britain and will be installed in all forces by 2009. This, together with the data problems, make Crisp an unnecessary waste of money.

"It's a matter of if we focus on the interim or do we focus on the PND," said the spokeswoman, adding that it was being reviewed to consider if the plans represented the "best value for money".

She insisted the work to date had not been in vain, saying the Crisp database was always intended to be subsumed into the PND eventually.

It had been in planning even before Bichard's 2004 report.

According to one industry source, problems were apparent last summer when the already delayed Crisp pilots were supposed to run.

"We took police data from one force and found 300 records associated with the one person, and not necessarily linked as the same person," he said.

Part of the problem had also been politics between forces, who each tended to expect the other to change its data procedures and structures. The decision to "review" Crisp was made at least as long ago as last May. A revised schedule for roll-out was pencilled in for December 2007. But the Impact team was so unsure about what they were doing last year that suppliers were being given "a different story every time we spoke to them", said the source.

This crunching of Crisp might also become a problem for the PND in meeting its revised 2010 deadline. A winding-up press statement issued on Friday by Pito stated how the existing Police National Computer had been patched up - an operation previously detailed as replacement of the old Siemens computers on which it was running.

The announcement stated: "The re-platforming project was completed in February 2007 and safeguards PNC services until at least 2014, when a successor system, known as the Police National Database (PND), is due to be available."

The press office of the National Police Improvement Agency subsequently said the statement had been misleading, and insisted it was still on track for 2010.

The spokeswoman said the suppliers had been consulted in workshops and would be invited to tender to create the PND in "early summer". Implementation was scheduled to begin this month. ®

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