Home Office hands over £50m for police mobile devices
Day of the networked copper dawns
The Home Office has finalised plans to distribute £50m in extra funding to UK police so that they can purchase 10,000 mobile, networked devices for use by plods in the field.
"We are investing in new technology to make crime fighting more effective and to save officers’ time,” said Tony McNulty, minister for cops and spooks.
“Officers who have access to databases, such as the Police National Computer ... while out on patrol, will spend less time returning to the station and more time on the frontline," added Richard Earland, CIO at the National Policing Improvement Authority. The NPIA is the body which maintains the PNC, and also the UK's biometric and DNA databases.
The Home Office invited police forces to submit bids for funding to the NPIA, with the Authority remaining "technically agnostic". The only requirement was that all the different regional plans had to conform to security standards set by the Communication Electronics Security Group (CESG) - the defensive side of the UK's secretive spook listening agency, GCHQ.
In some cases, groups of forces combined to put in common applications, but the funding will be used to purchase a range of different solutions. Some forces intend to use Blackberries, others are employing different PDAs. There are also in-car terminals planned, some of them dismountable. Data connections will include both the dedicated Home Office TETRA wireless network, and commercial solutions such as GPRS, 3G etc.
Equipment of this kind has been in service with some forces for a while. For instance, British Transport Police (BTP) officers have had GPRS-equipped handhelds since 2006, giving them access to data from the PNC, electoral roll, intelligence data etc. They even carry "slim printers", allowing BTP cops to issue legally-mandated forms to people after a stop-and-search.
Similarly, Lincolnshire scene-of-crime-officers (SOCOs, British forensics personnel) already have the ability to send in fingerprints using laptops equipped with portable scanners and 3G datacards. According to Tony O'Keefe, project manager for the collaborative bid put in by five East Midlands forces, similar digital fingerprinting kit will soon roll out elsewhere in the UK. O'Keefe doesn't see ordinary coppers - as opposed to forensics personnel - having this capability soon, however, but notes that it wouldn't be hard to do.
No data will be held in any of the new devices, with memory being emptied as soon as an officer logs off. Access security will be by password, and there are other passwords after the initial logon to get into the different applications - PNC or whatever. O'Keefe says that modern policemen have to remember even more passwords than the rest of us as a result. He's very enthusiastic about the new kit, saying that for a rural force like Lincolnshire it will save a lot of travel time and wearisome reading-out of information across voice channels.
Asked about the way ahead for the sixteen police forces who didn't get any of the £50m pie, an NPIA spokesperson confirmed to the Reg that more funding would be forthcoming for such equipment in future. ®
Re: ...of which £46m isn't spent on handhelds
"Maybe a few servers?"
Maybe? What, so you expect PDAs to magically connect securely to half-a-dozen backend systems directly? And each of these systems have an interface in place to allow direct PDA access? What then, the PDAs download the full data from the system instead of going through an intermediate server which does smart stuff like caching data, only sending down the minimum, compressed, encrypted data to the PDA?
I'm sure the police don't need to pay anything for network access either. Yes, Vodafone or whoever are just going to dish out gigs of GPRS access for free. Oh and of course data access is a one time cost anyway, isn't it? The police aren't likely to be using the devices for several years or anything.
I also imagine that other costs like mobile printers, adapting police uniform/holsters to carry PDAs and printers, servers, software licensing, officer training, spare devices for losses or training and storage/charging lockers for the devices don't need to come from this £50m budget?
I have no doubt that some companies are doing fairly well from this, but please actually think about what you're saying before coming up with a hilarious bit of maths.
As for it being 10x faster for officers to radio in, where are you getting that from? You do know that half the goal of using mobile devices is to *cut* radio traffic which is already bad enough? I don't think flinging hundreds more officers at the system either would help that. I doubt that officers want to wait even longer than they often have to in a queue just to get to a radio operator.
Not forgetting that the operators can only access a couple of systems like PNC, while the PDAs can be used to access multiple systems at once (PNC, intel, crime, electoral roll, tickets, warrants, firearms, etc...) from a single search.
Ok, fair enough. Let's stop this police madness here. Throw away all the thousands of devices that are currently in use (since around 2003 on) across mobile data trials and full-blown roll-outs around the country. It's clearly of no use to anyone.
My sarcasm levels are running low now, so I'll just say that some of your points are valid indeed, but I just had to vent on the some of the stupid stupid stupid things being said. Come on, this isn't the Daily Mail messageboards, you know.
lets just hope they're not running windows mobile...
A quote springs to mind.
They've got Smods!
State Municipal Offender Data System!
Your licence is currently under suspension Elwood, please step out of the car.