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Joined-up policing - why it needs to be a priority

Source: Public Sector Executive Jan/Feb 2013

John Gillon, a former detective superintendent with Strathclyde Police who had a 30-year police career, now an industry consultant for SAS Public Security, discusses the need for police services to make better use of data and to share information.

Now that the new Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) are in post, one of their most urgent priorities needs to be tackling the lack of joined-up policing in the UK. The country’s crime-fi ghting agencies have been talking about this problem for more than ten years now but it continues to be a serious issue. Contrary to popular belief, this failing is not restricted to communication failures between police forces and investigative agencies across the UK, but is an even more serious issue within individual forces.

There are many different examples of the problem, such as officers investigating a crime without realising that a suspect is of interest to another department (e.g. the Public Protection Unit) or dealing with a member of the public without being aware of previous incidents which (if known) would give a clear indication of their vulnerability.

Information failures of this nature are of serious and growing concern. A recent review by the now-retired Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Denis O’Connor, revealed that just five of the 43 police forces in England and Wales consistently question callers to fi nd out if they have previously been targeted.

Forces undoubtedly expend considerable resource collecting essential information. However, with disparate systems that are not effectively linked together, re-keying information is inevitable, quality assurance is often poor and effective sharing difficult to achieve. This inevitably leads to a shortage of timely, accurate and complete information at the disposal of decision-makers, in turn resulting in too many key decisions being based on subjective opinions and incorrect assessments rather than hard facts, potentially putting frontline offi cers as well as the public at risk.

In my experience, the offi cers themselves are often the fi rst to acknowledge these problems. A recent report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) revealed that officers and staff fi nd that intelligence systems lack the capability to provide them with the near realtime intelligence that would be of most use to them in the field.

So how can these challenges most effectively be addressed?

The time is now

The efficiencies that can be achieved through modern policing solutions are undeniable and in these times of austerity their introduction is increasingly urgent. The timing for the implementation of a more joined-up approach to policing could not be better given the current operational challenges forces currently face. The Government plans to reduce central funding provided to the police service by 20% in the four years between March 2011 and March 2015 and reduce the number of frontline police offi cers by 5,800 over the next three years.

It is clear that the police need timely access to all the information in their systems, both to be effective in the fi ght against crime and to drive the effi ciencies necessitated by today’s operational pressures. The advent of PCCs could help to kick-start the approach but from the technology standpoint, police need joined-up enterprise systems that allow them to link people, objects, locations, and events. Information relating to multiple business areas needs to be entered in one central location for ease of access and made available on-demand to those who need it.

Single unified systems are increasingly available and, if properly applied, can act as a central resource for forces. They can provide real-time access to the latest intelligence relating to a person, object, location or event, allowing offi cers to take timely, effective and appropriate action in relation to a given incident.

Avoiding the need for multiple entries also means that officers spend less time on ‘form fi lling’, freeing them up for front-line tasks, and reducing scope for error. A single unified system will provide the workfl ow and functionality to support the full range of operational activity.

By using the best available systems, forces and agencies can ensure risk-based decision-making and further enhance their effectiveness by using the system to mandate / promote best working practices. Modern systems should, on the basis of the activity being undertaken and the information content, automatically prompt users to take the most appropriate action. For example, when dealing with a repeat victim, officers should be prompted to provide an elevated level of service.

Looking ahead

As the PCCs get to grips with their new roles, it is encouraging that many have recognised the crucial role that technology can play in revitalising UK policing.

With the right technology to address these challenges now widely available, the solutions to the problems policing has faced in this area are potentially at hand.

And through the adoption of modern policing systems, it is clear that a better service for both offi cers and the public can be achieved.

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