Roundtable: Unlocking efficiencies with technology for more efficient policing
Justice and Policing Lead
Virgin Media O2 Business
23rd August 2023
Share this article:
The NPCC has stated that if policing fails to digitally progress soon, they are “at risk of becoming overwhelmed...[losing] the chance to enhance and modernise our policing services." Recognising the opportunity for digital, many forces are beginning to implement new technology. But there's still a lack of digital training and skills, and forces are faced with legacy debt that is threatening to compromise the efficiencies tech could unlock.
It's easy to think that just increasing funding in technology would solve the problem. However, with the rising costs of delivering policing, and increased budgetary pressures, investment can only be made in the right technology solutions.
We hosted a roundtable with Policing Insight aimed at exploring some barriers impacting digital progression in policing, and how specific technologies could be used effectively to drive efficiencies in the industry.
Chaired by Bernard Rix, Publisher at Policing Insight, the following conclusions emerged from the discussion:
- The pandemic positively impacted digital progress in Policing.
- Legacy technology remains an issue, but there are opportunities to optimise existing tech.
- The right investments must be made.
- Data continues to be a priority.
- Collaboration is key to future progress.
How the pandemic positively impacted digital progress in Policing
The impact of the pandemic and the rapid move to hybrid work was unprecedented for many organisations across the UK (and worldwide), but particularly police forces. Participants of the roundtable agreed that the role of technology in policing since the pandemic was positive. However, there was caution due to the lack of clarity on what the real day-to-day priorities are for forces.
For Deputy Chief Constable Benjamin Snuggs, Thames Valley Police, the pandemic “enabled a dispersed workforce to be effective in a way not seen in policing [before]”, which he identified as benefitting talent attraction and retention, and even allowing for more diverse recruitment. He also detailed how hybrid work challenged how services were delivered, by allowing for higher levels of collaborative working.
Graham Hooper, Head of Innovation, Kent and Essex, agreed with Benjamin Snuggs’ points, and added that the rapid adoption of technology did not ease time pressures in the force: “time is still a difficulty.” He spoke of the need to manage swift delivery demands from Chief Officers to increase efficiencies, due to the impact on the quality of the outcomes: “testing the efficacy of some systems [becomes] really difficult.” He also referenced the unpredictability of policing, and how future proofing can be a challenge.
Wyn Roberts, Head of Government Strategy and Market Development, Virgin Media O2 Business, acknowledged the shortcomings of digital, such as the lack of individual physical contact, “for certain types of meeting, face to face can’t be beaten…customers and suppliers can share so many challenges and ideas with each other.”
The Rt Hon Alun Michael, PCC for South Wales, highlighted specific examples of technology. Citing innovations such as facial recognition, he recognised that the “introduction of new technology should be grabbed onto.” But, to effectively use technology and trigger genuinely needed progression, “[Policing must] have a very clear view of what the priorities are.”
Legacy technology remains an issue, but there are opportunities to optimise existing tech
Amongst the participants, there was a consensus that outdated legacy technology was a barrier to widespread digital transformation initiatives for all police forces.
Martin McFadyen, Head of Public Sector, Virgin Media O2 Business, mentioned how “one of the biggest barriers we face is the legacy IT estate…the legacy technology systems we built on don’t permit the ability to execute new technology [at all], let alone at pace”.
Building on that point, Ian Wiggett, Senior Advisor, NPCC, mentioned how forces “don’t have access to basic tools, software and facilities to help them access data easily.” He recognised that though advancements had been made in terms of how digital impacted evidence collection, for example, older technologies continue to make it difficult to implement newer processes: “A lot of these things are just the same as fifty years ago in terms of processes, just on a computer.”
For Chief Superintendent Phil Davies, Greater Manchester Police, it’s clear that “the guardianship of tech” hasn’t been present throughout the years. He suggested that “senior police officers need to own the change. Police ICT is a core part of 21st century digital policing and there should be a training course on how to manage and use the technology.”
Updating legacy technology also means preparing police forces and their leaders on the newer technologies being implemented. When the adoption of better technology is initiated by senior leaders, it’s easier to integrate throughout the forces.
Adding to this, Ian Wiggett pointed out that for leaders to know where the most effective digital fixes can be made, communication with officers is crucial to knowing which problems can be solved with better digital solutions. He suggested “Chief Officers should walk through the core processes and see the practical challenges and difficulties that are in place [when it comes to staff’s regular policing practices].”
Simon Laurence, Head of Engagement, Marketing and Communications, Police Digital Service, identified how “every force is different, and we have to accept that. They’re in different parts of their IT journeys and invested in different applications.” He shared that digital transformation can’t be standardised across the industry, and the legacy debt for each force holds a different weight.
With a call for leaders and senior professionals to get on board with technology, the panel believed empowering other employees and beginning to discuss technology with colleagues was crucial to digital progression.
The right investments must be made
Optimising the value of investments due to budgetary pressures was an important factor to all participants of the roundtable. Indeed, the panellists agreed on the need to identify and prioritise investment in the solutions that will benefit police forces the most.
Graham Hooper first pointed out that money is intrinsically linked to issues with efficiencies in the force, stating "money is a question we always have to return to, and we need to be particularly hard-nosed about the prospects of funding, what we can afford in the IT space both now and in the future."
Alun Michael commented, "Policing is quick to embrace change and can sometimes be too quick, [we] need to be precise on what [we] want to hurry on most," emphasising how crucial it is to understand the urgencies in policing to know where to invest.
Martin McFadyen also positioned understanding priorities and outcomes as being vital to making the right investments. "The biggest challenge we see with budget and time to deliver is actually taking stock... what are the underlying foundations required for a successful delivery of a programme or project?"
Simon Laurence shared that despite initial investments being made in digital solutions, he was "not convinced forces are leveraging the best out of those systems."
Data continues to be a priority
A prime topic area that was also discussed, was the handling of data in policing. Phil Davies referenced a backlog of “over 25 years of data that hasn’t been looked after,” and the roundtable members were keen to explore how years of information could be analysed to generate the insights needed to help prevent crime.
When it comes to tackling the issues with data, Benjamin Snuggs said, “you have to start somewhere, we’ve got to be investing every year on cleaning up the data, so we can get the insights and decentralise it to officers that need the insights to keep the country safe.”
Ian Wiggett provided an example of how data scientists at universities had partnered with specialist fraud investigation units to develop software services that help with necessary but time-consuming tasks, like information redaction. If they want to take full advantage of digital tools that can make sense of data and create efficiencies, policing needs to partner with “reputable suppliers who are supported through the Police Digital Service.”
Phil Davies expanded on this comment, sharing that reliable IT products were needed to stop “forces from falling over” because of tech that doesn’t work.
Collaboration is key to future progress
The panel recognised that internal communication is key to onboarding the right digital solutions for police forces. Having people actively involved from the outset in discussions of technology application is crucial to understanding how it can deliver efficiencies.
Beyond this though, collaboration between other forces and public sector agencies to share best practice and knowledge is just as, if not more, vital for digital transformation. Phil Davies supported this, sharing how “community collaborations amongst forces is key…to create an environment where people share digital software together rather than completely overhauling IT systems.”
For Wyn Roberts, understanding how suppliers and customers can most effectively communicate and share knowledge is a big priority.
By encouraging internal and external collaboration between forces, public sector organisations, and the private sector, each force can make informed digital choices to discover efficiencies and continue delivering essential services in their communities.
Alun Michael succinctly summarised the roundtable’s view to partnerships; “policing doesn’t occur in isolation.”
What was clear from this roundtable is that the opportunity for digital progression in policing has been recognised. Whether it’s handling data more effectively or implementing new digital solutions to make day-to-day operations more efficient, participants all understood the leading role that technology plays in their own forces, as well as regionally and nationally.
There is a growing acknowledgement of the importance of digital, data, and technology resources, the need to funnel them effectively, and the importance of implementing them in a way that benefits police officers and police staff at all levels.
Police Forces should continue to seek to learn from each other, but it doesn’t have to be all be down to them. It’s critical that they work with the private sector, where police-focused tech organisations can assist in sharing best practice due to their expertise in supporting forces (and a range of public sector organisation) across the UK.
Of course, there are still policing-specific barriers to overcome but, once addressed, we will see digital transformation in policing enter a new and exciting chapter.
Thank you to all those who took part in the roundtable:
- The Rt. Hon Alun Michael, PCC, South Wales
- Graham Hooper, Head of Innovation, Kent and Essex
- Ian Wiggett, Senior Advisor, NPCC (National Police Chiefs’ Council)
- Simon Laurence, Head of Engagement Marketing and Communications, Police Digital Service
- Benjamin Snuggs, Deputy Chief Constable, Thames Valley
- Phil Davies, Chief Superintendent, Greater Manchester Police
- Martin McFadyen, Head of Public Sector, Virgin Media O2 Business
- Wyn Roberts, Head of Government Strategy and Market Development, Virgin Media O2 Business