What will digital police forces look like?

Recently, the College of Policing wrote to all Chief Constables and PCCs, the Policing Minister and HMIC about digital capabilities.  A new College of Policing report describes what a digital police force should look like from the perspective of the public and the frontline officer as well as how it should link in with Criminal Justice partners.  The College hopes that the report will:

  • Assist forces and PCCs when developing digital strategies.  This will influence force requirements; industry should therefore be cognisant of the report.
  • Inform the allocation of funding from the Police Innovation Fund, which is designed to incentivise collaboration, support improved ICT and digital working, and allow investment in innovative delivery approaches.
  • Inform HMIC’s assessments of how a force is using digital technology to improve their efficiency and effectiveness.

The report was developed as part of the College’s Digital Pathfinder initiative.  In addition to identifying what a digital force should look like, it maps the activities of the first 21 forces who signed up to be a pathfinder.  It includes information on what forces are currently working on and can be used as a point of reference for any force looking to progress on digitisation as well as by industry to identify opportunities to work with forces on the digitisation agenda.

A copy of the full report can be requested by email.

What should a digital force look like?

A set of digital capabilities were developed in consultation with the 21 forces. The capabilities were checked with forces during the survey process, and then refined through conference discussions, into the list below:


College of Policing - Digitial Force

The report then assessed the current digital landscape and opportunities for further development.

Current digital landscape

  • The results of the survey show that most surveyed forces have a some way to go before the effective use of digital service – as set out in the Policing Vision 2016 – is achieved in full. However, progress has been made and there are important pockets of expertise in the service covering some capabilities.
  • Three forces (Cambridgeshire, Hampshire and the Metropolitan Police Service) are looking at how digital technology can radically change the way they work.
  • The majority of the surveyed forces are initially looking for improvements on current processes.
  • Mobile technologies are a common focus as they are thought to enable greater transformation of the front line.
  • Forces are experiencing common constraints including:

Mobile coverage – All forces have areas where there is little, or no, mobile coverage. For the large urban forces, coverage within buildings is as much of a challenge.

Skills and resource levels – All forces have reduced the number of staff within ICT departments which has implications for the resources available to deliver new projects.

Shifting the balance of funding – Force ICT budgets mostly fund staff and critical systems. It may be that reducing current costs can release resources for change programmes, but additional investment in ICT maybe needed.

Future priorities for forces

The College of Policing recommends that, to ensure greater consistency and overall delivery of the Policing Vision 2016, localised expertise and learning needs to be developed further, shared more widely, and exploited more fully across a greater number of forces.

Importantly for industry, there is also a need for forces to establish a much stronger evidence base to help identify what technologies are most effective – a process that involves careful monitoring, an understanding of the user experience, and robust evaluation, and which is supported by knowledge exchange.

Finally, the College is clearly championing opportunities for forces to collaborate. Collaboration may take several forms and could involve forces:

  • sharing the investment and risk when developing a new digital services;
  • operating shared digital services;
  • negotiating with suppliers to obtain better value for money;
  • with more mature digital services sharing insights and the benefits of their experiences with other forces seeking to make progress; and
  • sharing research designs, working together with local universities in a regional collaboration, and conducting joint impact evaluations.

The College notes that, with reduced police budgets and ministerial pressure on the police service to improve its digital capability, cooperation and collaboration between forces could be essential to success – even though each force has a different starting point, different constraints, and different business requirements, there will inevitably be significant overlap.

Opportunities through the Police Innovation Fund

A range of opportunities have been identified for which Innovation Fund money could be used to develop capabilities where limited evidence has been found.

There are opportunities in the Criminal Justice Experience to develop the capabilities to

    • Access and to manage up to date case files from anywhere. Presenting a digital case file and evidence in court is a green field area, and so there is potential for any development to be used by the majority of police forces. There is an opportunity for collaboration to produce apps that will run on laptops or tablets to manage the presentation of cases.
    • Manage physical evidence in the same way as digital evidence. All forces have similar business requirements for digital storage of evidence. Digital case files should be able to provide links into the store, so that a case-view of the evidence can be accessed. Relevant parts of the store should be accessible by authorised members of the criminal justice community. A digital evidence store will need significant investment, so collaboration and sharing services is likely to prove the best path forward. Note: the Home Office is developing a national digital storage capability which forces should be able to use later this year. Forces wishing to take advantage of this national provision have been advised to put in place flexible contracts if they procure local digital storage in the interim.

There are opportunities in the Officer Experience to develop the capabilities to proactively brief officers and to task them based on role and previous contact history.

  • Location based information. When the location of an officer is known throughout the shift it should be possible to brief them about items that are relevant to their particular location during the shift. This will require technology that alerts the officers to relevant briefing material as they approach a particular area. In addition, tasking of offices during the shift requires knowledge of their location and training. Support for assigning tasks during shift can be provided when the location and capability of officers is known. This is an area that is ripe for development, potentially through collaborative projects. The experience of South Wales Police will be valuable to many forces considering this capability.
  • Better supervision. With appropriate technology, officers can be tracked throughout their shift and progress through many of their assigned tasks can automatically be recorded. This could give supervisors a complete picture of how each officer spends their shift. There are opportunities for highly accurate performance monitoring along with transparent rewards and sanctions. Again the experience of South Wales Police will be valuable to many forces considering this capability.

There are opportunities in the Public Experience to develop the capabilities to access force services without the need to create a user account, give evidence at a time and place that is convenient and show how the service provided by force is improving.

  • Apps for the public. There are opportunities afforded by the development of force-specific apps to provide a means for the public to contact the force and for the force to distribute news and information. There is also the possibility to develop portals that tailor the presentation to the individual and their location. If the public can report incidents online, the time taken by the call centre to record such incidents is reduced. In order for the full benefits to be realised, the online reporting must be integrated with the backend systems, to allow the automatic transfer of data. The introduction of apps also offers further opportunities, such as the ability to upload still pictures and video of incidents and evidence. There is an opportunity for a mobile app or online service that allows victims and witnesses to provide feedback immediately after an interaction with the police officer. Data needs to be fed back into a customer satisfaction database and reported on a regular basis as part of a performance management regime.

Finally, there are also Iinovation opportunities in areas of constraint such as mobile coverage. All forces have areas where there is little, or no, mobile coverage. For the large urban forces, coverage within buildings is as much of a challenge. Whilst forces are developing patrol cars of the future, collaborative projects in developing the WIFI hotspot capabilities of these vehicles could prove invaluable for forces willing to lead a path for others.

ADS input to the Digital Pathfinder Initiative

The College of Policing hosted two Digital Pathfinder events – in November and December 2013 – which allowed SMEs the opportunity to promote their expertise, products and services to a large number of police forces in one location and to inform the College’s guidance.

ADS provided an opportunity for its members to participate in the events.  All members who expressed interest were invited to showcase their capabilities, including:

  • 2ic
  • Abiom
  • Airbox
  • Cobham Tactical Communications and Surveillance
  • Core Systems
  • Cunning Running Software
  • Evidence Talks
  • Facewatch
  • HCL
  • IMSL
  • Infoterra
  • L-3 TRL Technology
  • Magellium
  • Peli Hardigg UK
  • Radio Tactics
  • RepKnight
  • Sepura & Portalify
  • Vemotion Interactive