Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA)


  1.  The National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) was established by the Police and Justice Act 2006 and is a Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB) which reports to the Home Secretary. The Agency is owned and governed through the tripartite NPIA Board which includes representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), Association of Police Authorities (APA), the Metropolitan Police Service and the Home Office.

  2.  NPIA vested on 1 April 2007. It is sponsored and funded by the Home Office, but its executive leadership is drawn from the Police Service. NPIA replaced the Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) and the Central Police Training and Development Authority (Centrex) taking over responsibility for all their functions. It has also taken over policy and/or operational responsibility for some activities for which the Home Office was previously responsible, as well as a number of national projects working directly to ACPO.

  3.  The NPIA is a policing organisation which will support forces in improving the way they work across a range of policing activities and policy areas for policing in England and Wales. It will act as a central resource to ACPO and police forces, working closely with Police Authorities and the Home Office to help improve the way policing works. The NPIA's approach to improvement is centred on ensuring that people, process and technology change is managed coherently and forces provided with support and expertise to assist the implementation of national programmes of change.

  4.  NPIA's mission is to support the police service in reducing crime, maintaining order, bringing criminals to justice and protecting and reassuring the public by providing expertise in areas as diverse as information and communications technology, support to information and intelligence sharing, core police processes, managing change and recruiting, developing and deploying people.

  5.  The NPIA operates within a strategic framework shaped by the National Policing Board, on which the Agency is represented. Preserving the integrity and probity of these relationships is fundamental to the mission. NPIA aims to be both an enabler of development within the policing community as well as the developer of links beyond policing. These links will support the adoption of proven ideas from research and policing (including internationally). For the Police Service at a national level, NPIA's role is to be the delivery agency.

  6.  This Memorandum sets out the key areas of NPIA's work considered to be of most relevance to the Committee's Terms of Reference. In order to support the police service in reducing crime, maintaining order, bringing criminals to justice and protecting and reassuring the public, the NPIA will improve the way in which the service exploits information and intelligence so that it is used efficiently and effectively across policing and the wider criminal justice system. The NPIA will manage such data in accordance with relevant legislation (including the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000) and established policies and guidelines on data management and data sharing (supporting the Transformational Government agenda).


  7.  NPIA's PNC Services is the service provider of the PNC, ViSOR (Violent or Sexual Offenders Register), NFLMS (National Firearms Licensing Systems) and shortly NABIS (National Ballistics Information System). ViSOR and NFLMS are accessed directly by forces/ enforcement agencies, and this will also apply to NABIS, but they are also linked directly to the PNC via an electronic interface.

  8.  NPIA's Data Centre is based in North London. A Disaster Recovery Site is provided within 20 miles and is used operationally to support PNC's 24 hour availability throughout the year. Both sites meet or exceed current security requirements.

  9.  The PNC came into existence in 1974 and has continually evolved since then. It comprises of four main databases:

    —  Names (the nominal details) of which there are over 8.6 million. Of these, approximately six million have a criminal conviction and two million are either CJ Arrestees (ie arrested after the 2003 Criminal Justice Act such that the record of the arrest is held but no charges were brought) or, more recently, with the introduction of the National Firearms Licensing Management System (NFLMS) there will also be Firearms Certificate Holders. The PNC is used to make that information readily available and shared across all Police Forces.

    —  Drivers, 51 million, where the PNC holds a copy of all driver information held by DVLA, again to make it readily accessible to all Police Forces.

    —  Vehicles, 57.5 million where PNC holds a copy of all vehicle information for police purposes which is supplemented by operational information eg vehicles of interest or stolen.

    —  Property, 96,000, where lost property that has a unique serial number is held on PNC so that the information can be shared across all Police Forces.

  10.  The use of PNC is controlled by three key documents:

    —  A statutory code of practice, The Police National Computer, effective from 1 January 2005.

    —  PNC Code of Connection.

    —  PNC Manual.

  11.  Access to PNC is available to all Police Forces of England, Wales and Scotland, together with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). In addition it is accessed by a number of other authorised Agencies for specific purposes relating to law enforcement. Such access is controlled by ACPO's PNC Information Access Panel (PIAP).

  12.  The NPIA Board recently approved the creation of a new tripartite governance body, the Police National Database Operational Committee, to have overall responsibility for strategy and governance of Information Management in respect of the police national databases that are supported by NPIA's PNC Services. The terms of reference for the Committee provide clear accountability and responsibility for a single governing body to oversee these national databases. The Committee will have an Ethics group with independent members.


  13.  The National DNA Database (NDNAD) is a key intelligence tool which has revolutionised the way the police can protect the public through identifying offenders and securing more convictions. The benefits of the NDNAD lie not only in detecting the guilty but in eliminating the innocent from inquiries, focusing the direction of inquiries resulting in savings in police time and in building public confidence that elusive offenders may be detected and brought to justice. Inclusion on the DNA Database does not signify a criminal record and there is no personal cost or material disadvantage to the individual simply by being on it.

  14.  The NDNAD Strategy Board provides governance and oversight of the operation of the NDNAD. Similar to the new Police National Database Operational Committee mentioned above (paragraph 12), it has tripartite governance involving ACPO, APA and the NPIA. The Strategy Board is chaired by the ACPO lead on forensic science.

  15.  The NPIA in conjunction with ACPO and the Home Office is responsible for policy on DNA and for assisting the police service in using it in the most effective and efficient way. The Agency also has responsibility for the delivery of National DNA Database (NDNAD) services and has a key role in maintaining and ensuring the integrity of the data entered and the use of the data in the investigation of crime. The NPIA understands there are improvements to be made in the management and delivery of the NDNAD and are working with the police to improve the processes. These include the reduction of duplicate entries on the database through the national roll-out of Livescan—a system of automatic fingerprinting terminals in every Police Force's custody unit. Another key development is the use of consent forms when taking samples from volunteers and witnesses for elimination purposes and the subsequent use of the data.

  16.  The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE)1984, which sets out the rules under which DNA information can be collected is currently being reviewed by the Home Office. This review is designed to ensure that the law is fair, and that it maintains the crucial balance between the usefulness of evidence in police investigations, and the protection of individuals' rights. Proposals will be put out for consultation in Spring 2008.


  17.  The IMPACT Programme, launched as part of the Government's response to the Bichard Inquiry and which is being led by NPIA, is helping to make communities safer by improving the ability of the Police Service to manage and share operational information to prevent and detect crime more efficiently. In doing so, it is delivering seven of the 31 Recommendations made by Sir Michael Bichard following his Independent Inquiry into the events surrounding the Soham murders.

  18.  The Programme is introducing new technologies, and helping the Service to implement the necessary business change, to exploit the benefits of improved quality and access to information across previously restrictive geographic and organisational boundaries.

  19.  The Programme has already delivered the IMPACT Nominal Index (which enables investigating officers in one force quickly to identify the existence of information relating to an individual (suspect) which may be held in a database by another police force in one of their key force databases). This has been rolled out to all UK forces and a number of key enforcement agencies. The Programme will ultimately deliver a Police National Database (PND); a single source of detailed information relating to people, objects (cars etc), locations and events that will link data currently held on local systems with that held on national systems such as the Police National Computer (PNC) and will address Recommendations 1 and 4 of the Bichard Inquiry.

  20.  The IMPACT Programme is also helping the Police Service to implement the requirements of the statutory Code of Practice on the Management of Police Information (MoPI) and the accompanying ACPO operational guidance.

  21.  The development of the PND does not create new operational databases and creates new information only in the sense that undiscovered links will be revealed and local force information will be visible to other authorised users of the system. The Programme is ensuring that the provisions of the Data Protection and Human Rights Acts, and other legislation, are observed and addressed; and that the impact on individual privacy is appropriate and minimised. NPIA is working closely with the Police Service, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Information Commissioner.


  22.  ANPR technology has been available for over 30 years, although its use in policing was largely restricted to counter-terrorism work until the late 1990's. Since 2002, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has promoted development of ANPR as a core policing tool, in conjunction with key partner agencies. ANPR is now overseen nationally by a multi-agency Programme Board, chaired by ACPO, with NPIA, HMIC, SOCA and the Security Service, amongst others, as members.

  23.  ANPR has proven to be a very successful operational tool, enhancing the ability of the police to intercept, and arrest, a wide range of criminals using the roads. In the last three years it has delivered two to three times more "offences brought to justice" when compared to conventional policing methods.

  24.  In April 2007, the national work on ANPR was incorporated into NPIA which, under continued ACPO leadership, is responsible for operational ANPR services at a national level; a programme of Assisted Implementation in Forces beginning in autumn 2007; and co-ordination of the wider ANPR development programme. Currently, the Home Office has retained responsibility for development of the proposals for the wider sharing of bulk ANPR data between third party agencies and the police, and also the process to facilitate of the transfer of bulk Transport for London (TfL) ANPR data to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) for the purpose of national security, including terrorism.


  25.  "Facial Mapping" and "Automated Face Recognition" are terms that are frequently used interchangeably but have slightly different meanings. We have assumed that in the context of a "surveillance society" it is really automated Face Recognition (FR) that is primarily of interest here.

  26.  The police have long been interested in the use of facial images to prevent, detect and solve crime. The proliferation of CCTV cameras in the UK (approx one for every 14 people) means that we are now accustomed to our movements being monitored in this way and for most people this is not an issue. Indeed, if a crime is committed the general public now expect there to be CCTV footage related to the event and concern is expressed on those occasions when it turns out that none is available.

  27.  The creation of a national facial images database, NPIA's FIND (Facial Images National Database) project, will for the first time enable UK police forces to retrieve and display facial images regardless of which Force Custody Suite originally captured the images. Inevitably FIND also raises the possibility of using automated FR to search this and other databases in conjunction with CCTV or surveillance images (both still and moving images) in an attempt to identify known offenders, terrorist suspects, etc. Recent trials of FR around the world have shown that there is still a long way to go before FR systems will work reliably in such circumstances. Whilst the use of FR is outside the scope of FIND, the NPIA's biometrics team has, for some time, been investigating this area to better understand if, and how, such technology could best be deployed in support of policing.

December 2007

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