How enterprise technology supports the British police

Here are the various pilot projects, digital initiatives and IT devices that are supporting cash-strapped police officers on their beats - from the seemingly benign to the more controversial

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Metropolitan Police

In the face of years of budget cuts, station closures, dwindling police officer numbers, and spikes in crime – including violent crime – the UK's police forces have increasingly turned to technology solutions that could help them work smarter with less. At least, that is the official line.

 

What this means is that police forces are signing up for contracts with an ever-broadening range technology providers to make better use of their data. This also includes investigating more controversial technologies like predictive analytics and facial recognition.

 

Here are some of the enterprise technology solutions being used by police forces across Britain.

Avon and Somerset pick Qlik Sense for predictive analytics

 

Facing down a savings target of £60 million since 2010, in-house developers at the Avon and Somerset Constabulary worked closely with data analytics vendor Qlik to pull together an allocation management app that displays the frequency and location of crimes, as well as a road safety application for predicting collision risk, an app for supervisors to use to display an overview of what's happening and where, as well as a crime management reporting app for a snapshot of performance, workload, and resourcing.

 

Essentially with Qlik the constabulary is able to gather disparate strands of data and compile them into a single source to gain insights.

 

An offender management application, for instance, uses Qlik to score the risk of previous offenders, and creates automated profiles of those offenders. Qlik Sense also shows on a dashboard the availability of officers overlaid with their location and objectives against the public demand.

 

"It's quite a small outlay for a very transformational approach in the organisation, and it's something that's very replicable in any public sector organisation," head of performance Sean Price told Computerworld back in 2017. "The way that Qlik works is that you can bring in a lot of data sets from different sources and stage and blend them and then present them back.

 

"We've done things where it can save a unit four staff a year in terms of timing because what it's doing is searching all the databases, assessing that information, bringing it all together, and then presenting it."

West Yorkshire police tap social open data in EC-backed trial

 

A bespoke trial app developed for the West Yorkshire Police in partnership with vendor SAS and Sheffield Hallam University allowed citizens to provide relevant data to the police quickly and easily.

 

The control side of the app garners open data from social media-based interactions with the police, feeds these onto map views of the areas they were sent from, and displays messages in a single column.

 

Athena Logic Cloud, the name of the project which was partially funded with cash from the European Commission, enabled West Yorkshire Police to visualise location-specific information and determine areas that were likely to be dangerous or safe.

 

While the trial was deemed to be a success, it emerged this year that Athena, which had later been deployed by nine forces in England and Wales, was prone to regular glitching and that it had even allowed criminals to escape the police.

 

Anonymous police officers, speaking with the BBC, said that the final product - developed by Northgate Public Services - "made an impossible job unbearable" and that it was "overly bureaucratic".

 

"From day one, it malfunctioned," said one officer. "Four years on, it is still malfunctioning."

The Met ditches burned CDs for Box cloud storage

 

First announced in September 2017, the Metropolitan Police Service finalised its pilot programme to shift archive data to Box's cloud platform in January 2018. A challenge had been integrating Box with the London police force's single sign-on system, but once these hurdles were cleared it committed to moving away from legacy data storage with analogue systems like CDs and USB drives.

 

Previously, for example, if there was an incident at a bus garage the Met would have had to request CCTV data to be sent via courier to one of its stations. But with the Box platform they would be able to digitally retrieve the files with a secure link.

 

The Met also confirmed that it would be moving away from other cloud storage systems. However, its Azure contract for storing body-worn camera data would continue.

South Wales Police's controversial use of automated facial recognition

 

Britain's High Court ruled in 2019 that South Wales Police's use of automated facial recognition (AFR) tech was legal and met the requirements of data protection legislation, as well as the Human Rights Act.

 

Human rights group Liberty had brought a case against the force on behalf of Ed Bridges from Cardiff, who had his face scanned during a protest as well as while he was out buying Christmas presents.


Detractors such as Liberty argue that the use of AFR breaches human rights laws and is overly intrusive. The public seems to agree: according to a recent YouGov poll, 55 percent of respondents thought facial recognition tech should be limited to use only under some circumstances, and 46 percent of those surveyed wished to opt-out altogether.

 

But those who are for the use of AFR believe that it helps to improve policing.

The Met teams with TASER and Microsoft for body-worn cameras

 

When our sister publication Techworld interviewed MPS superintendent Adrian Hutchinson in late 2016, he told us that the London force had 3,500 body-worn cameras operational at the time, with plans to roll them out to the 22,000 officers across London's 32 boroughs.

 

These devices can record about 12 hours of footage, and when officers return to a police station, they can place the cameras into a docking device where the footage is automatically uploaded to Microsoft's Azure cloud platform.

 

We had some concerns about the apparent arbitrariness of the usage of these cameras: when the footage is uploaded, it is down to the officer now how to categorise it, as either "useful" or "not useful" as further evidence. If considered not to be useful, the footage is deleted after 31 days, but if it is deemed to be of potential use, then it can be stored indefinitely.

 

It was also down to the decision of the officer whether or not to turn them on at all.

 

However, Hutchinson did say that the force had an "active weeding policy" and that officers were mandated only to record in certain circumstances, including stop and search, domestic abuse cases, use of force, and stops of vehicles.

Mobile working

 

A police officer who wished to remain anonymous told our sister publication Techworld that in recent years - and often as a response to cuts - the Metropolitan Police had been far more keen to roll out new technology, although it had "historically been terrible at giving us any kind of gadgets".

 

As much of the work the police engage in is office-based, investigators had started to receive hybrid laptop-tablet devices, while frontline officers who were on call had been given Windows tablets. Trial schemes saw some decked out with iPads, and others receive smartphones.

 

Their walkie-talkies are encrypted, and police cars were being retrofitted with better tech.

 

The police stations that had not been closed have been on drives towards paperless offices, including personal devices that syncronise with one another.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary investigates data for predictive policing

 

Speaking at the Reform Big Data in Government conference in 2017, the head of better inspection at Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) outlined how each of the UK's 43 police forces had been allocating their resources and conducting their operations.

 

They began to introduce location data specific to the various geographies – like where cashpoints were situated – as well as other variables such as the impact of football results and temperature changes in order to better identify when women are at higher risk of suffering domestic abuse.

 

 

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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