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IBM begs Britain's new top cops: C'mon, set up pre-crime units

Coppers are 'wasting' predictive model tech on beancounting

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Home Secretary Theresa May last year told the Association of Chief Police Officers that the current methods of buying ICT were "confused, fragmented and expensive" and mandated police forces had to make all their purchases using Spring ii in March 2011. Sprint ii was supposed to clean things up, but forces have complained that it makes deals more expensive. Working though frameworks also slows down the procurement process.

Only during next April will Sprint ii be reviewed and partially replaced.

Microsoft's national technology officer Mark Ferrar, told The Reg that although the idea of elected police commissioners is new, he expects deals will continue to be transacted through existing frameworks, PSAs, licensing agreements... and, of course, through G-Cloud.

"IBM might believe lobbying elected commissions is a way they think they will gain influence - they may be right. But our route to market will be the same processes - if they do a really big project buy something off a government framework. We have strong relationships the chief constables, their CIOs and top offices. That's how we work," he said.

Ferrar said Microsoft's Dynamics and BI tools in SQL Server are used in crime reporting, while Microsoft's FAST search software is deployed on the Police National Database. FAST was bought for $1.2bn in 2008 by Microsoft.

Office 365 was used by forces to communicate during the Olympics while "many" forces have been testing Windows 8 since it was released to manufacturing during the summer, said Ferrar.

Another issue is allocation of resources: do you spend money on tech or that perennial right-of-centre vote winner - more police on the beat? Bentley pointed out it's one thing to buy SPSS modules, but staff are needed to make the most of concepts - such as spatial analysis and mapping using Kohonen analysis. In some cases, Bentley reckoned, that means making the most out of the modules you've got rather than buying more.

"If you want to get the best out of it [the software] you have to train people... we need to train the analysts to use the existing tools better, which correlates with doing more with less because we have some good stuff and we have to sue it wiser," Bentley said.

"Do you spend money on this stuff or keep half a dozen cops in work? Politically, if you keep more cops in work you are doing what the city wants: visible officers. If you spend it on technology, it's more money going down the drain on 'useless' IT products - that's the perception."

Also, what if elected officials abuse the data - start cherry-picking the best stats to flatter their record or achievements?

Fellows believes this can be avoided with new laws that mandate the kinds of data published. "One of the benefits of having a standardised template is people can't cherry-pick the best data. You have to ensure you are getting all the data and accurate answers. How you do it us up to the legislators. What IT can provide is the ability to make this happen," Fellows says.

There is a deeper problem, though, and it comes back to singling out particular candidates - or, indeed, any individual. When a person moves on as the project leader, that project can wither. This happened in Greater Manchester when Bentley left - predictive analysis is no longer used.

This calls for a culture of more co-ordinated, national approach to crime prevention and analysis so you no longer need rely on individual sponsors. This has implications on how policing is done in the UK: on a national or on a force-by-force basis.

"Keith would agree one of the reasons why it fell by the wayside was very much in the collective mind of Greater Manchester Police," Fellows said. "Keith went on to do other things. He was the driving force - that's the way with programmes in policing... if a new incumbent doesn't shout as loudly for their project, these things tend to fade into the background."

Fellows is pessimistic that there will be much change in the short term: with tight IT spending, police forces won't be hitting predictive analytics nirvana too soon after November. Also, police IT differs widely in its state of repair: for all the police forces Ferrar says are testing Windows 8, The Reg knows of other forces still running Windows 2000 on PCs.

Fellows says: "I'm sure as word gets around about the benefits of predictive analysis, [there will be] much more potential for this sort of thing in policing."

What will trigger that? Success by one force in one area, just like Greater Manchester, Fellows says. ®

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