Investing in police, blue light and criminal justice technology

2 October 2015

New technologies offer massive opportunities for our police forces, but the technology currently available to police on the ground often falls short. There is huge variation in investment in technology across forces, with many still using out-of-date, expensive and ineffective IT. Another key issue is the limited interoperability of IT systems between police forces and within the criminal justice system more broadly. The implementation of smarter IT systems, wider access to data and investment in new equipment such as body cameras offers the potential for officers to be better informed and make better use of their time than ever before. New technologies can also assist with the collection of evidence and enhance police and citizen accountability.

However, there are also significant challenges to be overcome.

Firstly, the procurement of technology by the police service continues to be problematic. Indeed it was described by Sir Hugh Orde, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, as being ‘in a bit of a mess’. The continued failure of the Government to manage procurement is not only costly in economic terms and wasteful of human effort, but it potentially compromises the efficiency and effectiveness of investigation and other policing tasks. The Government should start by introducing national guidelines and, wherever possible, national frameworks for local forces to purchase goods and services. Modelling in the Stevens Review found that such an approach, coordinated jointly by the Home Office and the MoJ, could save the forces an estimated £62.6 million by 2016/2017. Labour’s Zero Based Review of Policing suggested that our proposals to create a comprehensive national procurement strategy could save £430 million by 2017.

A second crucial challenge is the current inability of the police service to adequately measure demand. As a recent Reform paper made clear, most police forces do not understand demand. This makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for forces to make evidence-based decisions about which technologies to invest in to improve policing outcomes. Combined with this problem is the year on year slashing of the policing budget by the Government, which is going to make it extremely difficult for forces to reform their use of technology and make strategic investments for the future. All forces are struggling with the short-term costs of keeping officers on the frontline, and so are less likely than ever financially to be able to make investments in technology with high upfront costs. The funding available for forces to spend on technology is being cut just as it is becoming an increasingly vital component for achieving wider service reform.

As a result, the financial challenges that the police service faces over the next five are significant, and will affect the forces, and the level of service provided to the public, in multiple ways, many of which are not yet properly understood. For example, a recent National Audit Office report found that the Home Office does not have enough information to work out how to reduce funding further without “degrading services”. Whilst it is not a panacea for the extreme budget challenges faced by the police, smart use of technology will be crucial in helping the police with the efficiency savings that they will inevitably have to make over this Parliament. Technology offers the chance to raise productivity and allow officers to make better use of their time than ever before, as well as helping to join up the policing and criminal justice systems. A technological revolution in policing is possible, ranging from every police office and police car being able to access intelligence, becoming, therefore, a mobile police station to the giving of evidence by video-link in magistrates courts, enormously reducing the time officers spend waiting in corridors.

The Government needs to make the most of this opportunity by sorting out the current procurement patchwork, improving understanding at both national and force levels, and working with the police to reform funding in a sustainable way that allows them to make smart investment decisions. Quite simply, future budget cuts will leave the police service unable to invest in the technological revolution preventing forces from delivering smarter and better policing.
Jack Dromey MP, Shadow Policing Minister
@JackDromeyMP

This article was written for the Reform Annual Journal to accompany the Labour Party Conference event “Investing in police, blue light and criminal justice technology”.

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