Police in Durham have turned to technology to improve crime-fighting efforts by making it quicker and easier for officers to enter information and access data.
The shift has been brought on by ever-shrinking budgets and the need to do more with less by giving officers access to tools and systems that help them make better use of their time.
One key effort has been moving from a mix of software systems provided by third parties to in-house tools running on cloud-hosted infrastructure from Microsoft.
The head of ICT at Durham Constabulary, Stuart Grainger (pictured), explained to V3 that using multiple systems created complexity and confusion, often requiring officers to enter information into two or more different systems, which created problems with data overlap and duplication.
“We used to have hundreds of thousands of duplicate data points on people, vehicles, locations and so forth,” he said.
In an effort to improve this, and cut costs, the force has embraced a Microsoft Dynamics CRM back-end system hosted in the cloud, and built its own software requirements on top for various day-to-day policing needs.
Grainger said that running the data on a single platform has reduced the duplicated data to just 10s of pieces per week at most.
One interesting aspect is that the ICT team did not provide any formal training to officers, but instead worked to make the tools as easy to use as possible, again owing to cost constraints.
“The cost to train people is too high and it means taking them off the streets and into the training room. So we tried to make the tool as intuitive to use as possible, such as having only 10 fields to enter per tab,” he said.
Grainger explained that the next focus is to make the platforms mobile so that officers can access the tools on the beat. The force is trialling mobile device management (MDM) tools and devices for staff to use.
He said that several devices have been tested, including Android and Windows phones, and that around 200 devices should be in use within the next three months when the full management infrastructure is in place.
As part of this push to mobile, Grainger also said that the use of PCs at police stations cannot last forever, as it is not feasible to equip officers with PCs, tablets and smartphones.
“I don’t think police forces can have three devices per officer. It will be inevitable to some extent that, just like we’ve reduced our server real estate through virtualisation, so we will do the same with devices,” he said.
The force is also looking to allow flexible working whenever possible, although security is a top priority given the nature of the information being accessed.
Grainger explained that staff use three-factor authentication to access systems: a user name, password and electronic fob.
Efforts to improve technology use in police forces saw the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) announce a £200m IT overhaul to take advantage of new technologies and replace ageing software, some of which dated back to the 1970s.
This programme took another step forward after a deal was struck to use Vodafone's 4G network for mobile connectivity on iPad Minis used by officers on the beat.
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