Features: January 29th, 2010

By Alister Humphreys

The problem with data collected by police officers is that it can be incomplete or just wrong. Sometimes people give false information and sometimes errors creep in. The author explains how by linking to other databases the new data can be cross checked and amplified to give an accurate and fuller picture.

“Accurate information is the lifeblood of policing. But unless it is accurate, relevant and accessible when it’s needed, it is of little value.” – The National Policing Improvement Agency.

Accurate and up-to-date contact data is the bedrock of police forces’ day-to-day operations. Without it, policing would undoubtedly be less effective. What’s more, the sharing of information between forces, now regulated by the 2005 code of practice: Management of Police Information (MoPI), makes it crucial that the data in question is accurate and that inaccurate contact data isn’t passed onto other forces.

But just what does ‘good’ quality data mean for frontline officers? Accurate and relevant data empowers professionals working at the frontline as it impacts on areas such as emergency response, investigations, stop and search and compliance. For example, up-to-date contact data on citizens, such as address and length of residency, can help police identify good contacts who may know their neighbourhood well and be able to help in an investigation.

While the improvement and standardisation of the management and storage of information is vital to its accuracy, technology also has an important role to play in ensuring data quality, supporting long-term data initiatives and aiding with compliance.

Surrey Police: driving data improvements

Surrey Police is one such force adopting technology to drive its data quality programme. Simple name and address forms are a crucial part of daily operations for the force and accuracy of this information impacts on all areas of its operations. Since 1997, Surrey Police has been working with Experian QAS to provide control room staff with name and address data which gives them a quick snapshot of people living in and around an incident. This means that officers can go to a location armed with useful information, such as previous offenders living in the area.

A couple of years ago, Surrey Police decided that it needed to extend the existing service to help overcome other challenges it faced. For example, the force was finding that, on occasion, members of the public deliberately gave inaccurate contact data as part of stop and search operations. This meant that the investigating officer had to be able to verify the information provided on the spot. Also, when officers are investigating an incident connected to a particular address, they will often contact neighbours or other residents in the area. In addition to name and address, being able to obtain information on length of residency and date of birth can be vital in this respect.

Embracing new technology

Surrey Police has always been keen to embrace new technology and the implementation of the force intranet some years ago meant operational staff had quicker access to information, whether doing the research themselves or providing the information to officers out on the beat. As part of this system, NameTracer from Experian QAS was integrated to allow staff to trace members of the public and return accurate names and addresses.

NameTracer Pro provides access to additional names data, including those that don’t appear on the full Electoral Roll. In addition to this, date of birth, old names and address records and length of residency are confirmed.
Searching with the software allows users to search within a particular geographical radius and restrict searches to a particular year. The information can be exported to provide officers with an investigation list. Results are sorted by name, address, and dates registered at a location, and neighbours or occupants of a selected address can be displayed.

Impacting on operations

Operations, such as Door to Door and Surveillance, have been dramatically improved using the new software. Surrey Police now has accurate and timely information about the location and identity of an individual. When accurate and relevant data is linked to its other intelligence systems, its frontline officers can conduct their work more safely and efficiently.

The data provided by this system can also be used to assist with information over and above nominal information. For example, a data field with partial addresses can be given a coordinate on the grid. The force is then able to overlay this in a GIS with other geo-coded data to add depth to its analysis. This sort of information is helping Surrey analyse crime and disorder in more depth.

Data quality: where next?

Unlike in some areas of the public sector, data quality amongst police forces is, by and large, improving. In a report, the Audit Commission found that nine out of ten police authorities had good or excellent data quality in 2007, compared with only three in ten in 2004. It credited some of this to senior staff determination to champion data quality, both in strategy and day-to-day operations. It also found that police authorities improved their contact data quality when it became a mainstay of financial performance and risk management. But with the accuracy of contact data being so vital to forces, they must not become complacent. While compliance should ensure basic data accuracy, forces should also be looking to technology to increase the depth and breadth of the information they can access. By having to access a wider array of relevant data sources, police forces will be able to conduct more in-depth analysis that will help with the speedy resolution of investigations and day-to-day operations.

Alister Humphreys is Head of Government, Experian QAS.