Police time is being wasted by a reliance on standalone IT systems, according to the Police Information Technology Organisation (Pito).
Superintendent Neil Grant-Salmon, business development adviser at Pito, told vnunet.com: "It is all about information management. Some of the bad practice is unbelievable.
"Between the report of the crime and it going to court it's possible to enter data 18 times. It's because they are all standalone systems."
He insisted that it is an "almost impossible task" to bring them all up to date at once. "If you want to eat an elephant you take a slice at a time," he said.
One problem is that forces do not change the way they do things when they add new technology. "Traditionally police forces computerise what they do. We need to step back and have that bigger view," said Grant-Salmon.
Wiltshire Police is one force attempting to integrate its back-end crime fighting systems and free up police time.
The force is using Microsoft's .Net technologies including Windows 2000, Sharepoint Portal Server and Biztalk to connect its systems and build a portal which officers will eventually be able to access remotely via PDAs. The project is due to be completed by September.
Chief Superintendent Gary Ogden, who is in charge of the project, said: "We can't do things because the back-end systems, like command and control and intelligence, are sitting there on their own and the officers have to check each one.
"We are integrating them through the portal so that officers can ask: 'What do we know about X?'"
Ogden explained that the plan is for officers to be alerted if new information about an individual they are interested in comes into the database.
The force also hopes to cut its expenditure on printing by putting all forms online. Previously, 85 per cent of forms were being rejected because they were incomplete.
Cutting one per cent of the 11 million forms the force produces could save £200,000 a year, or 16,000 hours of police time.
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