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Report backs mobile IT for police

Could cut red tape

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Mobile data solutions and inter-force IT have a big part to play in cutting police red tape, says a major report.

An interim report on the Independent Review of Policing in England and Wales, published on 12 September 2007, calls for police to be given more freedom from unnecessary bureaucracy and paperwork, and suggests several ways in which technology can help.

Produced by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the home secretary's senior adviser on policing, the report says that minimum standards of IT functionality are needed and that too many systems are currently developed on a force-only basis.

Poor interaction of multiple systems is not only a problem between different forces, but also within the same force area, claims the report. It says that a date should be set for all forces to ensure that data only has to be entered once into a computer system, and for any onward dissemination between systems to be done automatically.

The National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) will be carrying out work on this issue in the autumn.

Flanagan also recommends that the Mobile Information Programme Board should identify the costs and benefits of rolling out mobile data on a service-wide basis and recommend the best approach.

Currently, forces are developing their own solutions and rolling them out in accordance with their own business planning.

Continuation of this policy is one option, says the report, but two others should also be considered: a national model for mobile data deployment, with a prescribed technical platform and set of applications; or a hybrid model, comprising a national programme to support multiple platforms and applications, and a national programme to remove obstacles and provide technical, procurement and other enablers.

Elsewhere in the report, Flanagan recommends that by summer 2008 the NPIA should investigate whether Airwave – the emergency services radio system – could gather information on officers' daily activities. This could negate the need for officers to complete paper forms.

Another streamlining initiative that could produce significant time savings is the use of virtual courts, with pilots already being carried out. These would create a virtual link between the custody suite and magistrates' court, reducing prisoner transport costs and making better use of magistrates' time.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told BBC News that the report reflected the many positive things police forces have done in recent years to reduce crime. She said she would be "constantly vigilant about making sure police can concentrate on frontline policing", and not be distracted by paperwork.

The final report, which will consider in greater detail how the police service can better exploit IT in their work, is expected to be published early next year.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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