Features: September 12th, 2008

By Graham Baker

Bureaucracy and form filling are characteristics of public services. Police forces are no exception and beat officers have been spending almost half their time at the police station. The problem is being tackled vigorously and officers now spend much more time on the beat and less at the station. Mobile technology has played a part in this transformation. The author describes how BlackBerry smartphones are being used by many forces to reduce paperwork and cut the duplication of effort by giving officers out on the beat the opportunity to access information and report activities.

The Government’s Transformational Programme highlighted the need for public sector organisations to use technology to help transform public services by 2011. Since the initiative was announced in 2005 it has gained considerable momentum, with mobile technology now playing a significant role. It is essential that public sector organisations are running as efficiently and productively as the most agile of private sector and for employees from the police to local government to have secure and continuous access to information on the move.

One sector that brings the benefits of mobile technology into stark reality, highlighting just how powerful it can be for ‘Transformational Government,’ is the work RIM has been doing with UK police forces. Today, one in seven police officers use a BlackBerry smartphones and this is increasing exponentially. RIM has been working with UK police forces for over seven years and the BlackBerry solution is currently deployed by over 50 per cent of UK police forces, which represents over 28 individual police forces and approximately 20,000 devices.

Transforming Police Forces

The move towards making police forces more efficient, by reducing the amount of paperwork and duplication of efforts, was illustrated first in a national study commissioned by the Home Office back in 2001 entitled “Diary of a Police Officer.” The study revealed that on average officers were spending almost as much time in the police station (43 per cent of their time) as they were on the streets. Among the report’s conclusions was the recommendation that police forces should seek to use mobile technology. More recently, Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s report, “A Review of Policing” advised police forces to invest in mobile technology to reduce bureaucracy and increase efficiency.

In order for mobile technology deployments to be successful, it is vital that it is not just rolled out for technology sake, but that the mobile solution chosen is useful, usable, robust and cost effective. Furthermore police forces need a mobile solution that stands the test of time and will grow with them. As a tool for transforming government, the BlackBerry solution stands out from other communication technologies due to its robust security features and continual innovation. The BlackBerry not only offers secure access to email but also enables users to access critical information on the go.

BlackBerry On The Beat

Bedfordshire Police’s deployment of BlackBerry smartphones has delivered lasting improvement to the force, enabling officers to gain an extra hour a day in efficiency gains. Officers have also reported that it is the best piece of equipment that they have been issued with for years.

Officers can access a host of mobile applications on their BlackBerry smartphone including: the Police National Computer (PNC), warrants database and the crime management system. By providing officers with remote access to these critical applications, Bedfordshire Police has reduced the time travelling to and from the station and has helped to increase officers’ visibility within the community, by enabling them to spend more time patrolling the streets.
An independent measurement study commissioned by Bedfordshire Police revealed that 82 per cent of officers thought that the BlackBerry solution assisted them in doing their job and 75 per cent said that it would impact them if the force took away their BlackBerry. In fact the force experienced a 10 per cent increase in the time officers spent patrolling the streets.

To further encourage and speed up the deployment of mobile technology, the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) made a £50 million capital investment fund available in May 2008 for UK police forces to invest in mobile technology and this was increased by a further £25 million in July. Thames Valley Police was the first force to benefit from the NPIA scheme. It has equipped over 1,100 police officers and Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) with BlackBerry smartphones, to increase officers’ time on the beat and improve service to the local community. In addition to remote access to the Police National Computer, officers can also identify suspects and conduct vehicle checks whilst on the beat.

In addition to remote access to the PNC and local police information databases, officers can access a variety of bespoke applications, such as shift briefing, crime tasking, and intelligent reporting, which allows officers to access intelligence in real time.

As police forces use these mission critical applications on the beat, it is of paramount importance that the mobile technology solution satisfies the most stringent security requirements. This is where the BlackBerry solution comes into its own. The BlackBerry platform is the only mobile platform to be accredited with up to ‘restricted’ level data by CESG, the UK’s government’s national security body. This gives an added level of protection, as well as a capability to remotely disable lost or stolen devices.

Today, the BlackBerry solution is setting the benchmark for mobile technology in the public sector. It is used and trusted by over a million government and public sector customers worldwide, including NATO, the MoD and the FBI. RIM continues to develop its product portfolio and works with UK police forces and application partners to implement further mobile solutions that will realise even greater efficiency and productivity gains for police officers.

Graham Baker is Senior Manager of EMEA Public Sector Sales at Research In Motion.