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The digital challenges facing UK policing, and why collaboration is key

The Strategic Review of Policing and HMICFRS’s State of Policing, both published in March 2022 found that the police service is facing major challenges, broadly summarised as:

A capacity challenge – due to the range and complexity of demand.

A capability challenge – the police service simply does not have the technical resources it needs to meet demand.

An organisational challenge – the police service in its complex structure of 43 police forces within England and Wales, with an overlay of other national law and regional law enforcement organisations – lacks the organisational platform to tackle modern criminality.

Police forces have evolved organically over decades to such an extent that each has a mixed economy of IT platforms ranging from Force Control Room; to intelligence and investigations; case and custody; digital evidence management; mobile working and so forth.

Police organisations often still struggle to share information and intelligence across organisational boundaries and this becomes part of the organisational challenge highlighted by the above papers. The join up between law enforcement organisations becomes even more sensitive and acute when serious and organised crime and counter terrorism policing are considered.

For example, a recent inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue service (HMICFRS) found that Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCU’s) were indeed sharing intelligence but were challenged in doing so by the many disparate police systems. Greater investment into technology is required to ensure more effective join up of the ROCU’s.

In short, more needs to be done and can be done including greater investment into technology to ensure more effective join up of the ROCUs.

In order to achieve that, policing needs access to technical programme managers who understand police systems and with a proven track record of delivering success in this complex environment. Also, our experience is that police forces often need rapid access and deployment of people with critical technical skills; people who police forces can rely on to be security cleared and already have an understanding of police systems and ways of working.

Based on Triad’s experience of working in high risk policing disciplines, we believe it is paramount that digital transformation of policing must be led by clearly articulated policing requirements and not just by ‘shiny’ looking technologies. The industry needs to listen carefully to police customers and recognise that different police organisations have different needs. We have learnt that through our work over the last 6 years in some of the most sensitive and complex areas of policing.

We have found that police organisations need security cleared programme managers who are familiar with police systems, to help in a wide variety of technical areas which are required for successful digital transformation and which include:

  • Secure Cloud hosting
  • Product selection and integration
  • Service Design
  • Collaboration between teams
  • Technical assurance
  • Operations room management
  • Duty and case management

These requirements are becoming even more acute as we see that police forces are advancing more quickly towards cloud technologies. We are seeing more regular feedback from Directors of Digital and ICT that they struggle to access individuals with specific technical skill sets such as Cloud Data Migration Programme managers, particularly when working against time constraints.

There is one other essential ingredient to digital transformation and that is the need for true collaboration, where the efforts of industry are geared towards overcoming policing challenges with clearly related tangible benefits. This needs police technology partners to have insight and understanding of policing – many simply do not.

People may ask what makes policing different when it comes to working with technology partners.  It’s true that many of the challenges are consistent with other parts of the wider public sector and, indeed, industry sectors.  The imperatives around efficiency, automation and digital transformation apply almost universally.  However, working within policing poses some particular challenges.  Policing has a distinctive culture, a particular approach to decision-making, a need to be apolitical whilst being heavily influenced by politics, and – most importantly – a front-line that deals daily with life and death situations.

So what are the special characteristics and how are they reflected in a successful approach?  Your people, and our processes, need to be both resilient and robust.  At the same time, their outlook needs to be agile and nimble, ready to respond to emerging situational factors that might not have featured in the plan.  They have to soak up pressure whilst remaining cool, calm and collected and possessing always that ability to challenge constructively to ensure the best possible outcome.  Whilst these are traits that are useful in many engagements elsewhere, their importance within policing is a prerequisite not to be underestimated.

In conclusion, we recognise the strategic challenges facing policing and as has been discussed in these pages previously, collaboration with industry is essential to acquire the additional capacity and capabilities which are available from industry but not readily available from within policing.

Note: This article was first published in Police Insight, May 2022.

Co-authors:

Adrian Leer is Managing Director of Triad Group Plc. Triad is a trusted partner to secure police organisations, both locally and nationally, delivering digital and ICT projects in policing across product and system integration, bespoke development, project and programme management.

Paul Kennedy is a former chief police officer and NPCC technology lead. For the last 5 years, he has worked as a strategic advisor to policing and industry on all aspects of digital transformation.

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