Features: February 22nd, 2013

Now that the new Police and Crime Commissioners are established in their new roles, one of their most urgent priorities is the need to proactively tackle the lack of joined-up policing in the UK. John Gillon explains the challenge of joining up not only different organisations, but also of joining up the functional areas within each police force. He also suggests how the challenge can be addressed.

The country’s investigative agencies have been talking about this problem for more than a decade 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 multiple examples from officers investigating a crime without realising that a suspect is of interest to another department (e.g. the Public Protection Unit) to front line officers attending low level incidents without being aware of previous incidents which, if known, would give a clear indication of the victim’s increasing vulnerability.

These kinds of failure are a serious and growing concern. Well-publicised incidents over recent months have highlighted the dangers that exist where police systems are not properly joined up, intelligence is not made available where it is needed or vulnerable repeat victims are not identified. A recent review by Sir Denis O’Connor, the now retired Chief Inspector of Constabulary, found that only five of 43 police forces surveyed in England and Wales consistently question callers to establish if they have been targeted before, and no force checks on how vulnerable they are.

Law enforcement agencies undoubtedly expend considerable resource and time collecting essential information. However, with disparate systems that are not effectively linked together, time is wasted keying and rekeying information, with the added risk of vital intelligence being lost in the gaps. This can easily lead to a lack of timely, accurate and complete information which in turn can result in too many vital decisions being based on subjective opinions rather than hard facts and in incorrect assessments of risks and threats to officers as well as the public. At the same time, officers need to adhere to complex, rapidly-changing regulations.

Ultimately, police need to have access at the right time to all the information that is in their systems in order to effectively prevent or solve crime. Today there are systems in place that theoretically enable police to link up people objects, locations and events (POLE) but in practice the information is either not there at all, incomplete or, even more frustratingly, not available in real time to officers dealing with incidents.

In our experience at SAS, the officers themselves are often the first to acknowledge these problems. A recent report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) revealed that officers and staff find that “intelligence systems lacked the capability to provide relevant timely and specific information for officers” and that officers “do not have real-time intelligence provided to them in the field”. So how can these challenges most effectively be addressed?

The Right Time

The efficiencies that can be achieved through modern policing solutions are undeniable and in these times of austerity their introduction is increasingly essential. The timing of a new joined-up approach to policing could not be better. Forces across the UK face daunting operational challenges. The Government plans to reduce central funding provided to the police service by 20% in the four years between March 2011 and March 2015, while cutting the number of frontline police officers by 5,800 over the next three years.

It is clear that the police need timely access to all the information that is in their systems both to be effective in the fight against crime and to drive the efficiencies necessitated by the operational pressure they are under – effectively to do more with less.

To meet these objectives, they need joined-up enterprise systems that allow them to link people, objects location and events. Information relating to multiple business areas needs to be entered into one central location for ease of access and be made instantly available to those who need it.

Single unified systems are increasingly available and if properly applied can act as a central resource for forces, providing real-time access to the latest intelligence relating to a person, object, location or event, allowing officers to take timely, effective and appropriate action in relation to specific incidents. In particular, the technology allows officers to act within the critical ‘golden hour’ after an incident has occurred, feeding timely accurate intelligence to their officers which enables them to concentrate on front line activities and ensures that risks, both to officers and the public, are properly managed.

The systems also help officers eliminate the need for multiple entries which means that they can spend less time on “form filling” activities, freeing them up for front line tasks and reducing scope for error. A single unified system not only helps agencies avoid the delays and inconsistencies which can result from maintaining multiple systems, it will also provide the workflow and functionality to support the full range of operational activity, ensuring that the relevant information is channelled to those who need it.

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 and 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 to the Future

As the PCCs get to grips with their new roles, it is reassuring 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 at hand. Through the adoption of modern policing systems, a better service for both officers and the public can be achieved.

John Gillon is an Industry Consultant with SAS.