Police are looking to technology to make gains – as they should

8 March 2016
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Ian Blackhurst, Executive Director for Solutions, Northgate Public Services

In a budget-tight environment, it’s an article of faith that technology is the saviour of modern policing – saving money, saving resources and saving time. The good news is that faith is not misplaced. There are tremendous gains to be made with technology, as work with Staffordshire Police shows.

The bad news is that there’s little other choice. Police numbers aren’t going to increase – if they do, it would be going against the long term trend. And budgets in the short term are only going one way. Cutting red tape is another option, but it is really hard without new ways of working and the capacity and capability to figure that out.

Technology is looking more and more like the best if not only option. It’s producing tangible improvements in policing in Staffordshire, where police have just installed a new system, SPIRIT, in 176 police vehicles.

SPIRIT is designed to get the best possible police response with the least possible cost and, in doing so, optimisation get the right resources to the scene even faster. As a result, for the first time, their police will have real-time information on exactly where each of their vehicles is, which officers are in the cars and the specific expertise and capabilities available.

SPIRIT is capable of using the information about demand patterns to assess where and what type of resources will be needed in the future making planning easy and allowing the service to adjust to the demands of society.

A key benefit is that officers are more likely to remain visible in the community rather than having to head back to the station.

Common sense would seem to indicate that this is a big step in the right direction.

SPIRIT delivers directly to the front-line in line with the Police and Crime Commissioner for Staffordshire Matthew Ellis’ commitment and ambition to see Staffordshire Police become the most technologically advanced local force in the country.

We need this – we need a vision for policing that marries the possibilities of technology with their real world impacts. Too often that’s missing. It’s not feasible to keep on going as we are, particularly when mobile technology is improving in leaps and bounds. The idea that control room staff could have such a clear understanding of police resources, and the best ways to use them, is the stuff that promises real improvements to the way police work.

SPIRIT isn’t alone, of course. Another key project changing the face of policing is Athena, which uses technology to increase police collaboration across borders, reduce costs, improve efficiency and prevent crime.

The programme strips out time consuming manual processes, integrating with police, Court Service and Crown Prosecution Service systems to help forces work faster and achieve more. Over 10,000 officers, CSOs and police staff are currently helping protect 3.1 million people as part of the Athena programme. Those numbers are increasing in the future as further forces join. 

Things like Athena and SPIRIT are our best hope for dealing with the challenges facing modern policing. The key question for me is, How do we get forces to adopt and share their learning from each other? As opposed to re-creating new solutions to the same problems. We need the police service to be more like a group of branches of the same company rather than individual small units, able to leverage the power of shared data and IT but maintaining their local identity.