Policing for the future Contents

7Police technology


170.Earlier chapters of this report have referred to the challenges being created by the growth in digital evidence, and police service’s inability to keep pace with the increasingly-sophisticated methods of online offenders. This chapter takes a closer look at police technology, focusing on cyber and digital skills, digital capabilities at a national level, and police forces’ ability to implement new technology and communications solutions at an agile pace.

Cyber and digital skills

171.Many policing witnesses spoke about the challenges involved in acquiring colleagues with strong cyber and digital skills, and in training officers and staff to the required standard. Written evidence from the Met Police said that “being able to tackle cybercrime, fraud and other crimes that take place in a non-physical environment requires a totally new skillset for our officers and staff.246 The Police Foundation argued for “much greater flexibility within the police workforce”, to enable forces to “move past the current dichotomy between warranted officers and police staff”. Highlighting the fact that “analysts and fraud investigators (who may have no power of arrest) are very much at the forefront of tackling crime and keeping the public safe”, the Foundation suggested that “A key part of this shift will be cultural, both within forces and among citizens, as to what we mean by [ … ] ‘frontline’ policing”.247

172.In a speech in 2016, the President of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, Chief Superintendent Gavin Thomas, argued that the response to online crime might require “recruiting someone in their late teens, or early twenties, who thinks about, and uses technology in a very different way to those of their colleagues”. He suggested that police teams could be supplemented by cyber and financial experts from outside policing.248 The PSAEW told us last year that “there is a need to redefine policing’s relationship with the private sector, so that it becomes one that is agile and flexible, enabling the sharing of skills, knowledge and technology”.249 It was also supportive of the notion of transforming the Special Constabulary into “an effective reserve force”.250 The Policing Minister told us that Hampshire Constabulary has “led the field in encouraging what they call cyber specials”—people with “skills that would take forever to develop inside the police system”, who “come in and offer those to the force”.251

173.T/Commander Dave Clark told us that there had been progress in training officers on online fraud, including through courses run by the College of Policing, but he acknowledged that there was “more to do on direct entry of specialist skills”, adding that “traditional policing recruitment” has not helped.252 His written submission said that “a majority of regional fraud teams have fewer than half a dozen fraud investigators”, so “the capacity to support forces on serious and complex fraud investigations is severely limited”.253 The APCC said in written evidence that ongoing challenges were being generated by the loss of police staff with “niche technical skills”, who leave forces to pursue better-paid opportunities in the private sector.254

174.In June, we visited the National Digital Exploitation Service (NDES), which is hosted by the Metropolitan Police Service. The NDES was created in 2015 as a national capability to support counter-terrorism policing, with the ability to access and exploit various forms of digital intelligence and evidence.255 Lynne Owens suggested to us that the policing of serious and organised crime is not in the same place as counter-terrorism, in relation to national capabilities and structures. She told us that a recent national security capability review had concluded that “there ought to be a new national assessment centre built within the National Crime Agency, supported by a new national data exploitation centre”, also within the NCA.256 In an interview with The Sunday Times in January, Ms Owens reportedly described the difference in resourcing between serious organised crime and counter-terrorism as “disproportionate” to the level of risk.257

175.Chief Constable Thornton told us that the area of policing in which she is “least confident” is “our response to cyber-dependent and cyber-enabled crime”. A review in 2017 had concluded that “only about a third of forces had a proper capability to deal with cyber-dependent and cyber-enabled” offences. She told us that the NPCC and NCA were making a joint bid to the Police Transformation Fund for cyber units in forces, “regionally coordinated as part of the NCA area”, with views “emerging” about “the skills that are needed”. She admitted, however, that this was “very much work in progress”.258

176.We have serious concerns about the police service’s digital capabilities, including the skills base of officers and staff and the technological solutions available to them. We were impressed by the digital and data exploitation capabilities available to counter-terrorism policing, but we note comments by Lynne Owens, Director General of the NCA, regarding the inequitable provision of resources available to other threats, including serious organised crime. Previous chapters have outlined our concerns about digital capabilities in other fields, including child sexual abuse and online fraud, and we fear this may be a systemic problem throughout the police service.

177.Based on the National Digital Exploitation Service model, used for counter-terrorism policing, we believe that a prestigious national digital exploitation centre for serious crime—possibly with regional branches—would be better able to attract and retain talent, alongside the likes of GCHQ. It would also have the purchasing power to invest in innovative methods of digital forensics and analysis, from which all forces could then benefit. We call on the Government and the police service to take steps urgently to cost such a model, in time to account for the required funding in the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

178.At force-level, there is a clear need to upskill the existing workforce and bring in more staff and officers with advanced cyber skills. We also endorse the Police Superintendents’ Association’s suggestion that the Special Constabulary could be transformed into an effective reserve force, and suggest that resources should be devoted to scoping this as a national model, focused on cyber and digital skills.

Technology and data-sharing between forces

179.A common theme emerging from the evidence was the inability of forces introduce and implement new technological and communication solutions in an agile and joined-up manner. Martyn Underhill said in written evidence that policing continued to be “hamstrung” by “numerous different solutions to the same problem being generated across 43 different forces”. He pointed to body-worn cameras as a “positive initiative” that has nevertheless been “rolled out in a piecemeal fashion with a lack of common standards and shared learning from the process”. He added that the introduction of the Police ICT Company, which is owned and funded by PCCs to support police ICT projects, was “a positive move in trying to co-ordinate technology related matters at a national level”, but that “the sheer size, scope and complexity of systems, requirements and contracts across the current policing landscape makes this an extremely challenging task, with little real progress made to date”.259

180.The challenges arising from fragmentation in technology were also a key theme emerging from our roundtable event on barriers to innovation and reform. Participants described a lack of long-term strategy and the immense extra costs emerging from duplicating reform programmes across forces. They were particularly frustrated by the lack of interoperability between forces’ databases and communication systems, with delays built into operational work as a result, while officers make phone calls to establish what intelligence is held on a suspect in a neighbouring force. Lynne Owens later confirmed to us that “the intelligence systems that individual police forces work from are different and they are not joined up”.260

181.Chief Constable Thornton told us that “three or four things” were being done at a national level to improve coordination and communication between forces. The “most relevant” of those, she said, are the National Law Enforcement Data Programme, which will replace the Police National Computer (PNC) and the Police National Database (PND) with one database, and the National Enabling Programme, which will enable better communication between forces through joint procurement of software products.261 Subsequent evidence revealed the limitations of these and other national projects, however. The Government was unable to provide a figure on the number of forces that had signed up to the National Enabling Programme. When asked why it did not require all forces to sign up, Scott McPherson, Director General of the Crime, Policing and Fire Group, responded: “I think that comes back to the question about local democratic accountability. It is not for the Home Office to dictate to forces exactly what they do on these things”.262 The National Law Enforcement Data Programme, due to complete in 2019/20, will enhance the sharing of intelligence between frontline officers, but it will not provide them with access to all information from other forces on a ‘real-time’ basis.263

182.Sir Thomas Winsor told us that a new ‘Network Code’, developed by HMICFRS, will set minimum operating standards for forces to adhere to when upgrading or purchasing an IT system, to enable interoperability between forces, but that forces will not have to sign up to it. Mike Cunningham described current arrangements for national reform as “amorphous”, and said that he would like to see:

[ … ] something that is much clearer, crystallised in a protocol, in an agreement of some form, that forces and central policing agencies can sign up to [ … ] when something comes into place that is of public benefit [ … ]. At the moment, things are done on far too much of an ad hoc basis.264

He added later: “I think that everybody who has led on a national initiative will feel the frustration that we are dealing with a very fragmented system”.265

183.One area in which the Home Office has taken a lead role in delivering a national service to police forces is the Emergency Services Network (ESN) programme. This was intended to provide all emergency services with an advanced communications system, with new data capabilities that they could use to increase efficiency. It was also intended to save money, by allowing the more costly Airwave radio system to be turned off.266 In 2015, the Home Office signed contracts with Motorola and EE to deliver the ESN, with the intention that emergency services would start transitioning to the new network in September 2017.267

184.This programme has run into significant difficulties, however.268 As predicted by the National Audit Office in 2016, the delivery timetable chosen by the Department proved too ambitious, and the roll-out of ESN has been delayed by fifteen months. Services are not due to start using the new system until 2019.269 The problems prompted the Department to start a strategic review of the programme,270 the results of which were finally announced in September 2018, with the programme undergoing a major change of direction. Instead of delivering the entire end-to-end service at once, forces will now have the option of using elements of the service, such as mobile data, as soon as they are ready.271 As a result of these delays, the significant financial and productivity benefits projected in the programme’s business case will not be achieved.272 The delays also mean that the Home Office will need to pay £330 million per year to keep Airwave running until ESN is ready.273

185.The Policing Minister told us that one of his personal “bugbears” is that the police are “not where they need to be” in taking advantage of new technology, which is “the biggest opportunity in British policing”.274 He referred later to “a central challenge around an historic approach to procurement with insufficient understanding of what they were buying and insufficient collaboration”. He assured us that, “Collectively, we are trying to drag police technology from a place that feels terribly out of date into the modern age”, and “there will be a resource requirement attached to that, which we intend to take to the CSR”.275

186.Police forces’ investment in and adoption of new technology is, quite frankly, a complete and utter mess. We welcome the Policing Minister’s recognition that police technology requires additional investment to enable the service to meet the challenges of the 21st century. This is clearly correct, although we do not think the level of investment is the only problem. Forces are facing rapidly-evolving threats from criminals who exploit new technology in advanced and innovative ways, yet their own technological solutions are not always up to the task. There are enormous opportunities for policing, including greater use of artificial intelligence and the exploitation of data, but the service is often failing to take advantage of them.

187.We believe that the biggest failing in this area is not the level of funding, but rather the complete lack of coordination and leadership on upgrading technology over very many years. This is badly letting down police officers, who are struggling to do their jobs effectively with out-of-date technology. It is astonishing that, in 2018, police forces are still struggling to get crucial real-time information from each other, and that officers are facing frustration and delays on a daily basis. The National Enabling Programme and the ongoing reforms to the Police National Database, though welcome, are woefully unambitious, and will not solve the problem. Criminals don’t recognise police force boundaries, and neither should the data that is gathered on them. The Home Office must make it a clear and stated aim to unify all police databases and communications systems according to a clear timetable, with all new force-level contracts negotiated accordingly, so they can fit into a national framework or contract in future.

188.Stronger national leadership from the Home Office on technology is essential—Ministers need to take ultimate responsibility for the failure of this crucial public service to properly upgrade its technology to deal with the threats of the 21st century. However, this must be accompanied by enhanced capacity and capabilities within the Department: its abject failure to deliver the promised savings from reforms to the Emergency Service Network (ESN) demonstrates what can happen when national projects are poorly managed.

246 Metropolitan Police Service (PFF0055)

247 The Police Foundation (PFF0041)

248 Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales, New figures, new thinking – how to deal with the cyber crime phenomenon, 21 July 2016

249 Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales (PFF0044)

250 Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales (PFF0044)

253 T/Commander David Clark, National Coordinator for Economic Crime, City of London Police (PFF0003)

254 Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (PFF0057)

259 Martyn Underhill, Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset (PFF0025)

263 Home Office, National Law Enforcement Data Programme, Law Enforcement Data Service (LEDS) – Privacy Impact Assessment Report, July 2018

271 Home Office news story, New strategic direction for the Emergency Services Network (ESN), 21 September 2018

Published: 25 October 2018