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Flanagan reads riot act on police IT

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The Flanagan Review of Policing calls for an end to the piecemeal approach to new technology adopted by the British police. The report looks likely to be accepted in broad terms by the Home Office. A Green Paper later this spring is likely to introduce many of his proposals.

Although Chief Inspector of Constabulary Ronnie Flanagan did look at police technology, the big change will come with the National Police Improving Agency report, due in May. The NPIA is looking at police use of new tech, making systems more compatible and introducing standard processes.

Flanagan outlines some of the problems with police use of technology. Firstly, lack of cooperation between the 43 different forces means that technology trials are often needlessly duplicated in different areas. It costs the police between £3,000 and £6,500 to equip an officer with mobile IT equipment over five years - a cost which could be reduced if forces worked together.

Without a central organising group, or individual, there is little strategic thinking in police technology use. Flanagan notes: "For instance, new databases are constantly being introduced, none of which currently link across forces. As a result some 70 per cent of information is entered into police systems more than once."

The police must "act corporately" to get actual benefits from technology. But Flanagan has no doubt that new technology can help - he cites one force's pilot with PDAs, which saved each frontline officer 51 minutes per shift. But he warns: "Adopting disparate IT solutions across 43 forces is a potentially huge loss of opportunity and is only likely to further complicate the range of processes and systems currently operating service wide." Flanagan used the Airwave radio project as an example of a project which was resisted by the police.

The Review calls for the Government to include some kind of regional or inter-force cooperation on buying and setting up new hardware in its Green Paper. This, coupled with more standardised processes across police forces, would reduce paperwork and time wasted.

A united approach would not only make implementing new technology easier; it would also ensure that police get the most out of it. Using the example of body camera footage, Flanagan says if it does really work then it should replace police notebooks. But such a move would require changes from the rest of the justice system - so again the police need to "act corporately" to get other agencies to support them. The review warns that the structure of the police force is the biggest barrier to reducing bureaucracy.

Flanagan is also supportive of one of the wilder uses of technology - camera-cops. Plymouth trialled the use of video cameras in police helmets in 2006, and claimed an eight per cent fall in violent crime where the cameras were used and an 18 per cent fall in woundings. The cameras were credited with reducing time spent on paperwork and filing by 22 per cent.

But the review warns that costs and community attitudes need to be considered - the Home Office is spending £3m on a wider trial of helmet-cams.

The review recommends the NPIA should work on standardising processes in different forces as a precursor to introducing new technology- including standards for GIS mapping.

NPIA will also have to do something about recent failures by the police. Last April the plug was pulled on the crime reporting website police.uk because of a lack of crimes being reported. In January the National Offender Management Service (NOMIS), which aimed to link prisons and probation services, was radically downsized to include only prisons.

Last December Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced an investigation of how the courts system update the Police National Computer, after an earlier review found warrants were being withdrawn if defendants failed to turn up at court.

Plans to improve police databases in the wake of the Soham murders have also fizzled out.

Flanagan also called on the Home Office to urgently review the RIPA Codes of Practice. (our story on this is here.)

His report is available here, as a large PDF. ®

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