The former head of the Police Federation has called for the Home Office to mandate the integration of police IT systems by 2015.
In an interim report on police bureaucracy for the Home Office, Jan Berry says that although forces are at different stages in their development of IT, there is an operational need for them to have compatible technology.
"Such are the benefits of an integrated compatible information system for the police service and its partners, it is appropriate for the home secretary to mandate forces in this aspect," Berry, a former chair of the Police Federation, says in the report.
She challenges the Home Office to set an achievable timetable with clear standards and milestones to ensure fully compatible and integrated IT systems across all police forces.
Berry was commissioned by home secretary Jacqui Smith to bring a "fresh perspective" on the progress made on the recommendations of Sir Ronnie Flanagan's review of policing in February last year.
Flanagan recommended a fundamental re-evaluation of police resources, a reduction in bureaucracy, strengthening of partnership working between the police and other agencies and better emphasis on local accountability. He estimated that 5m-7m hours a year - the equivalent of 2,500-3,500 police officers - could be released for front line duties if his recommendations were implemented.
The structure and organisation of police forces, Berry found, creates the potential for fragmented technology. However, she is optimistic that some progress is being made to address this problem.
"The importance of the Information Systems Improvement Strategy programme cannot be overstated," she says. The strategy, being taken forward by the National Police Improvement Agency, will influence the introduction of mobile data terminals and plan for the integration and compatibility of all ICT systems.
Victor Almeida, senior analyst at Kable, said: "ISIS is a joint procurement initiative, which could help police forces to reduce bidding costs and standardise their systems. But it is important that the opinions of individual forces are heard and that technologies can be customised to their needs. One size does not fit all."
Another key recommendation is that digital recording of interviews with people taken into custody should be rolled out to all forces. Trials in Lancashire have shown advantages, including easier access to interviews, better investigative and judicial processes, as well as cash savings.
Mobile data devices are being used by many police officers, but the type of devices available varies widely and there are few examples of integration. The report calls for forces familiar with this type of technology to share their experiences to encourage other forces to move to greater compatibility and integration.
The interim report will be followed by a more in-depth assessment in the spring.
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