How the UK police force is embracing new technology

As police forces up and down the country face wide-reaching cuts, the Metropolitan Police is increasingly turning towards technology trends like mobile working and the paperless office to cut down on waste and increase efficiencies with dwindling resources. Just what is the tech that the average officer has access to on the beat?

"The Met has historically been terrible at giving us any kind of gadgets," says one officer who wishes to remain anonymous. But it has recently started rolling out more and more, including a much-publicised initiative to have every beat officer equipped with a body-worn camera.

At least one body-worn camera is available to every officer now. Techworld last year talked with superintendent Adrian Hutchinson, the mobile technology lead for the Met and an advocate of the body worn camera programme. Taser subsidiary Axon supplies the cameras and the management software, while Microsoft Azure provides the cloud storage.  "Microsoft is a long-term MPS trusted partner," Hutchinson told us at the time. "They approached us with Axon Taser, with an almost seamless opportunity to store our data securely within the UK. It's made life a lot easier for the first 3,500 cameras that have been rolled out."

Cars used to be fitted out with a simple touch-screen device but these have generally been quite old systems. They were also, until recently, one of the few places officers could find gadgets at all. There's currently a trial in some boroughs to fit police cars with better devices but this hasn't been rolled out to the wider Met yet, one officer told Techworld.

A great deal of work police officers do is office-based. Investigators who spend most of their time in the office will receive a hybrid laptop-tablet device. Front line officers who are out on call often will be given Windows-based tablets. The trial scheme ran with some officers given iPads that had limited software available on them before the wider roll-out of Windows tablets. Some officers also receive smartphones, and of course, their walkie-talkies – which are encrypted, unlike for some forces outside of the UK like in America.

But what about the police stations that are closing down?

"The reality is that police stations are disappearing and having to be sold, so having people able to work from anywhere is the ultimate goal, I think," one officer said. "They will be doing away with standard workstations as well. They're just going to have docks for whatever device people have."

To accompany that reality, the stations that are open are undergoing a drive towards paperless offices. Devices like the tablets and laptops tend to sync up with one another, so a file saved on one will be available on another, and according to one of the officers we talked to, a really strong benefit is not having to return to the office every time a report needs filing, nor is printing absolutely everything out a necessity anymore.

See also: Met police to store body camera data indefinitely in Microsoft cloud

Then there are more cutting-edge technologies on the horizon, with one department in Durham trialing AI software to see if suspects would re-offend if released, and the first drone-flying unit.

But with a public perception being of cash-strapped stations struggling to allocate resources in order to tackle crime, how are people in the Met reacting to investments in technology?

"It's a pretty obvious efficiency when you look at it," one officer told us. "It's something that also, we have been so far behind in technology for so long – some offices still have a few Windows XP computers. When I started all computers were on Windows XP.

"So I think it's been a long time coming. I think the fact they're using money they're saving elsewhere to invest in technology, I think most people recognise that as a good thing.

"It's true obviously that more people would be great, but actually fewer people can do a lot more with technology."

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