Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary, Thomas Windsor, has urged police forces to work together to procure IT and to ensure that their systems are interoperable - or face risking public safety.
In his annual State of Policing report, Windsor said that there had been major changes since the Bichard inquiry report in 2004 found that each of the 43 police forces had a variety of IT systems which are used for a variety of different purposes.
However, he said that accurate, comprehensive and nationally accessible law-enforcement information systems are still some time away.
He gave examples where on a regional level there has been collective decision-making that works well: Hampshire Constabulary and Thames Valley Police already have a shared chief technology officer, and there are plans to include Surrey and Sussex in the arrangement.
Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, meanwhile, have combined their ICT budgets and have a single ICT lead for all three forces.
However, such initiatives haven't yet been replicated on a national scale. Windsor urged chief constables to work collaboratively with each other, and the Police ICT Company, to bring about radical improvements in terms of the use, design, interoperability and procurement of police ICT systems.
"The Strategic Policing Requirement (SPR) requires, among other things, connectivity between forces and emphasises the need for consistency. Police and crime commissioners and chief constables are all required to have regard to it," he said.
"The chronic lack of interoperability between forces' ICT systems clearly demonstrates that 'having regard to' the SPR is not enough and that forces need to go much further," he added.
Windsor suggested that police should take inspiration from the energy and transport industries, in which a network code was established to specify common operating procedures for things that had to be done the same way.
"The solution I have proposed is a network code: a decision-making mechanism for the establishment, revision and abolition of common operating standards and procurement of ICT.
"It would still require all police and crime commissioners and chief constables to pool their sovereignties, in the interests of a more efficient, economical and effective police service," he said.
He emphasised that this was an opportunity for forces to improve policing, rather than a threat to their independence.
"Policing is no longer all local and there have never been 43 best ways to specify, acquire or use ICT. Of course, the requirements of each force are not all exactly the same.
"There needs to be a well-developed procedure for the proposal, analysis and consideration of standards and new ways of working with ICT, so everyone has a say, and everyone's individual circumstances are taken fully into consideration," Windsor suggested.
"Until the police service has a fully functional, interoperable system of ICT networks, efficiency and effectiveness [will be] impaired, [and] public safety is imperilled," he warned.
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