UK police want to Airwave hello to some more mobile devices – survey

Long delayed Emergency Services Network probably not helping

UK police might not agree on how to measure the success of technology used on the beat, but three-quarters of them want better mobile kit - and more of it.

According to a survey of 100 "IT decision makers" at UK police forces, commissioned by Computacenter, one of Europe's largest box shifters, 74 per cent of bobbies on the beat say they need improved portable comms equipment - including mobile digital terminals, mobile phones and body cameras.

This may in part be down to delays to the Emergency Services Network – which promises to replace coppers' Airwave radios with 4G devices with an array of applications to make life easier for the shrinking number of plod.

Seventy-one per cent of respondents to the survey said that technology had an important or significant impact on rival forces' success. Twenty-eight per cent cited lack of personal kit as the biggest challenge. A similar number cited lack of access to modern applications – which would of course also require a hardware upgrade in many cases.

A quarter of those questioned said better technology could bring better access to information and greater collaboration between forces.

Although existing radios, depending on which force you're talking about, do include some additional applications, many officers rely on their own phones to access consumer services. It is not uncommon in London to see officers using Google Maps to guide tourists, for instance and survey responders mentioned this.

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The biggest obstacles to getting investment in new technology will sound familiar to many organisations, not just the police.

In order, they were:

  1. lack of awareness of technologies and their benefits to the force,
  2. complexity of managing implementation and management,
  3. difficulty in convincing budget holders and
  4. being hamstrung by legacy IT vendor contracts.

Theresa May's Home Office set up the Police ICT Company back in 2011. It was meant to simplify technology procurement for forces across the country by finding a company to run a network of value-added resellers and other specialists. After eight years the project was "put on hold" last month.

The survey also revealed differences in how successful IT projects are measured within the police.

Some 62 per cent of those surveyed demand new technology that can produce a measurable reduction in crime rates while 71 per cent opt for user/officer satisfaction. Some new technologies have produced surprisingly clear results – some pilots of body-worn cameras have coincided with dramatic reductions in complaints against the police, for instance.

The researchers used an online survey to question 100 people working in police forces across the UK.

A study from the University of Cambridge that looked at the UK and US use of body-worn cameras by police found a 93 per cent drop in complaints. Researchers suggested changes in both police behaviour and public willingness to file frivolous complaints, they noted big differences however on shifts where officers could choose when, and when not, to switch on the cameras.

The picture is more mixed than this, though - other research found no significant improvement in anyone's behaviour following the investment in cameras. Cameras have also been credited with increasing conviction rates for domestic violence cases by giving jurors a clearer view of events. ®

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