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Police ICT: a view from the frontline

Where do frontline officers think the answers to the service's technology problems lie? Two officers shared their views at this week's Police Digital Summit.

Sgt Caroline Hay

Sgt Caroline Hay

Date - 3rd February 2021
By - Gary Mason
9 Comments 9 Comments}

Sgt Caroline Hay is a sergeant with City of London Police having transferred from the Met where she joined the service. She is very operational  - with Taser and Public Order tickets  -  but also has a first class honours degree in policing and is on the Board of the National Strategic Policing Review.

She currently works within the force resolution centre, which is intended to centralise most crime recording supervision and scrutiny. Previously she worked on a response team.

Having worked with the Met and the City of London which occupy such a common geographical space she has experienced the problems caused by siloed ICT systems even among such close policing neighbours.

The Met has its own crime reporting information system (CRIS) whereas City uses Niche.

“We still need to access the CRIS system which we can’t currently do through our resolution centre,” she says. “Bridging those silos is such a key thing in policing and something we can definitely improve on.”

She acknowledges that the pandemic has forced the pace of technology change to speed up significantly.

“I have managed to mobilise the whole of my resolution centre to work from home during the pandemic and that would never have happened even a couple of years ago,” she says.

Virtual statements 

An example of another welcome change is the switch to virtual statements since the start of the pandemic which can be used in court. City is also able to use the link to send CCTV footage back and forth virtually.

While progress has been made there is always more to do she says. She needs to access 10 different ICT systems regularly to fulfil her role.

She says officers are usually inputting information onto force systems “at the dead of night when they are exhausted” and duplication is the most frustrating aspect of that work.

“People talk about fantastic digital capabilities that are being built but for officers on the ground it is all about getting the basics right,” she says. “I still have officers threatening to throw their laptops out of the window because that basic technology isn’t there.”

Back to basics 

That means data should only have to be inputted once and not onto multiple systems. “I also shouldn’t have to email that report over to another force to tell them ‘this is your crime’. There should be much easier links to do that and it would save so much officer time,” she adds.

Sgt Hay said she was recently completing a spreadsheet on Excel but it ended up being so complicated that she had to call a colleague in the Met who then got in touch with Microsoft so solve the problem.

“This is basic spreadsheeting,” she says. “Yes, I have a responsibility with keeping up with technology, which I do, but we do need to get these things embedded and move on at a faster pace than we are doing currently.”

Loss of confidence in tech 

When she came off her response team six months ago she says officers were still having “real issues” using their tablet devices. There were continuous functionality problems with people trying to record incidents remotely and she says officers eventually lost confidence in the technology.

“They then had demands from management saying they were only inputting 30% of their data on the tablets,” she says. “If you don’t start using them we are going to discipline. Whereas the scenario was that the officers didn’t think the devices were working for them.”

Having an easily accessible contact for individual officers to have technology problems sorted out would also be a significant advantage. In the area Sgt Hay worked in the Met they had technology cafes where those problems were resolved.

She also makes the point that officers are being asked to police much wider areas and there is always the danger that will create gaps in intelligence. “This is where technology could come in and help us. If you are sitting in the car on you own on the way to an incident you are expected to have an idea of where you are going and what the scenario will be. You can’t read that while you are driving.”

Intelligence gap 

Some of the information can be relayed over the radio but she says there is also a technology opportunity for an Alexa-type functionality to provide the information using automated voice via the device in the vehicle.

“Also if you are out on an area you won’t know who your 20 burglary nominals are because the area will be too big but your computer could tell you or show you a few faces, an MO, just some interactive information.”

Insp Dan Reynolds (pictured) serves with Cheshire and has been involved in national technology projects such as Single Online Home (SOH).

As a force incident manager he is currently working in the control room and can see all the incidents as they come in.

He says that since the pandemic officers’ vehicles have become mobile offices so they don’t have to keep coming back to stations. The force has invested in laptops and a trial is about to start with electronic notebooks.

He makes the point that with this change in working model any new technology will only be as good as the person who operates it. “You can have all the whizzy tech you want but if the operators don’t have that basic understanding of what they can do with that technology it doesn’t matter what we invest in.”

This also impacts on the quality of the data that is entered into the systems but he says officers will get fed up very quickly if they have to keep inputting the same data into different systems.

“The frustration for front line officers is that they will go time and time again to the same addresses. We don’t police everybody  - 80 per cent of our time is probably spent with 20 per cent of the same people.

“If officers go to a domestic incident and complete and put in a vulnerable person’s assessment form, where that goes and what we actually do with the form is a different question," he says. "Are we just satisfying ourselves that we have done something for the sake of doing it?”

He says other agencies hold far more information about people, especially around vulnerability and mental health, which officers don’t have access to.

“We go to addresses and will make decisions for absolutely the right reasons based on what is in front of us. So taking them to hospital might be the right thing to do but if we had access to medical records we could have found out that they had access to a healthcare worker who could have been there within an hour.”

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Ordered by:
Anonymous - Mon, 08 February 2021

And the SMT response - use the system or we will discipline you! What a stupid response from a stupid manager.

Still, if the IOPC are brought in to conduct the discipline investigation, it'll take them 10 years to report back.