Multi-million pound first generation operational police information systems are coming to end of their natural lives. These legacy systems are based on 1970-90s mainframe technology and software. They are characterised by the way they duplicated functionality of the paper-based systems which they replaced. This is the reason why there are entirely separate systems for crime, major investigations, criminal records, vehicles, police response to incidents, custody, missing persons, property, case papers and intelligence to name the more obvious. They cause operational police officers to spend so much time in police stations doing paperwork because each system is updated separately.
There is good news and good news. The replacement of the legacy systems provide a unique opportunity for police forces to save money and make policing more efficient and effective at the same time.
How do police save money? Simple, they have an opportunity to get out of the multi-million pound annual cost of running and maintaining the legacy systems. New systems are much cheaper to run than old ones. We all know that. I can remember back in the mid 1980s when houses that now sell for over £300,000 went for £30,000 and video recorders cost £700 each. Police forces are maintaining the equivalent of £7,000 video recorder information systems when something far better can be purchased for £50.
Secondly, how can police become more efficient and effective? This is equally simple and obvious. Operational policing is not actually separated into different functions. Policing is one big consistent function. The reason why an incident is deemed to be a policing matter is because there is a crime or disorder aspect to that incident. Incidents are therefore the front end of crime recording and investigation. Crime investigation is a fundamental source of intelligence. Crime investigation and proactive policing requires intelligence and both require prevention strategies to be efficient and effective. Crime, custody, intelligence and case papers are equally all part of the same overall process. This leads to the second generation concept of big data and a single database in the “cloud”. The cloud architecture allows police information systems to be developed and maintained as a service, again reducing costs, and importantly enabling changes to be made with improvements in technology.
In the past computer performance and memory capacity encouraged silo databases; lack of confidence, expertise and imagination resulted computerised paper-base systems. These systems where not based on policing in the round. Policing in the round has basic building blocks. Firstly those described by Problem Oriented Policing (POP) of the essential elements crime/disorder , Offender, Victim and Location. Secondly those described by the National Intelligence Model (NIM) of the interlocking processes of Intelligence, Prevention and Enforcement as methods of tackling that crime/disorder.
These building blocks need to be the basis of the big single dataset. All data should be collected and used for all three NIM processes; Intelligence, Prevention and Enforcement. The databases should follow the POP model of Offender, Victim and Location in an expanded form to include time, commodity (e.g. stolen property and controlled drug), and evidence (including identification and forensic) with the connecting strand of police investigation and case management and prosecution.
Crime/disorder and policing are geographic. One of the elements sacrificed in the first generation of police information systems was the precise and accurate recording the occurrence of crime/disorder and policing activities. Location and time information are essential to the three elements of the NIM; Intelligence, Prevention and Enforcement. New mobile tablets enable locations and time relating to police activity be precisely and accurately recorded with the aid of Global Positioning Systems (GPS). These mobile tablets allow real time recording of investigations providing push/pull information and the efficiency of single entry information. This means that police officers can be provided with details the victim of crime that has been recorded at a police call centre and given other background information (situational awareness) –the push: and request more specific information - the pull. The process of reporting is a simple series of screens appropriate to the crime and gathering of photographs and sound as appropriate by the tablet. Once that is entered into the big database in real time it is available for supervision and further work by colleagues.
This leads to another important aspect of modern policing: police performance and police accountability to the general public. The real time situation awareness obviously aids appropriate responses to vulnerable and repeat victims but this goes beyond that to spatial-temporal analysis of the public’s demand for policing and the way in which police respond to that demand. The comprehensive recording of that public demand and the police activity in response to it that is feasible in second generation big data systems allows sophisticated analysis to take place that can be made available to the public.
Lastly the real challenge in the next two to five years is the transition phase between the first and second generation systems. On the technical side, legacy systems need to be phased out seamlessly to the user. This requires bespoke software systems that allow data to be migrated to new hardware whilst maintaining 24/7 functionality. This software ideally needs to be open-source to minimise licensing costs and allow co-operation between service providers.
These are exciting times.