ICT and the vote Police reform in 2005 and beyond

ICT is now the critical strategic component of modern domestic policy; just take a look at the Home Office’s second phase of police reform, says Mat Hanrahan.

Jan 13, 2005
By Mat Hanrahan

For as long as many of us can remember, the populist law and order agenda was dominated by competing calls for ‘more officers on the beat’. Now that the UK police service employs more constables than ever before, politicians are focusing on initiatives such as reducing bureaucracy and closer co-operation with the local community. Few are acknowledging, however, that such issues have significant hidden ICT components that could have wide-reaching implications for the future of the service.

The Home Office has been preparing the ground for its third term policing policy throughout 2004. Hazel Blears explained to the Police Reform Conferences of January 14-15 2004 that the second phase of police reform would focus on four areas: community engagement, accountability and responsiveness, and reform of national policing structures and workforce.

Community engagement and accountability and responsiveness are integral to the drive towards reassurance policing, a key part of the populist election agenda. The aim is to encourage communities to see crime prevention and reduction as a shared responsibility, rather than the exclusive concern of the police. ICT has a key role to play here, as digital data and voice services can revolutionise both the channels and the processes that communities use to communicate with their local police service, as well as collect cheap and accurate statistics about response levels, accountability and performance.

ICT also has an important role within the proposals to reform national infrastructure and workplace practices. PITO recently renewed the Police National Network Framework Arrangement (PNN2) contract with Cable and Wireless for the UK criminal justice telecommunications infrastructure – an obvious starting point for new national initiatives on both volume and organised crime – while workforce reform aims to open up more senior ranks of the police service to technical civilian staff. All four areas were laid out in detail in November when the Building Communities, Beating Crime white paper was released.

Prime Minister Tony Blair himself outlined a similar program in a speech to the civil service in February. Blair argued that the organisation had to open itself up to interchange of ideas between public, private and voluntary sectors, and move away from permanent structures towards project working, cross-departmental collaboration and shared budgets. He also stated: “Key roles in finance, IT and human resources should be filled by people with a demonstrable professional track record in tackling major organisational change.” Five months later Chancellor Brown announced the axing of 100,000 civil servants following Sir Peter Gershon’s efficiency review.

The level of investment in police ICT may vary widely across the 52 UK forces, but many police ICT operations are already of a sophistication and complexity that matches anything found in commercial enterprise. The cost of making up the differences is dropping all the time, as relentless competition in the enterprise software market puts sophisticated off-the-shelf products within the price budgets of many police authorities.

The market already supports career moves from the commercial to the police or ‘blue’ sector. Consultants that move to ‘blue’ often enthuse about the change as a refreshing opportunity ‘to put something back’, while technology vendors are increasingly keen to add the right kind of experienced officer to their public sector teams – who in turn often relish the opportunity of applying their experience to a broader canvas. The interchange of experienced personnel is established and will continue to make a positive contribution to the new phase of local policing outlined in Building Communities, Beating Crime.

Yet there are darker shades to the call for those with “a professional track record of major organisational change”.

Throughout the eighties and the nineties it was multinational corporations, rather than government, that made most use of the cutting edge of ICT,

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