The results for the annual Police ICT User Survey have been released and some interesting responses came back regarding overall service satisfaction, system integration, training and investment. Nearly 4,000 participants from 48 police forces answered and results showed that over half (55%) are not satisfied with their force’s overall ICT, and only 18% think their force’s policing systems are well integrated.
When you consider that police forces use bespoke systems rather than the much more cost-effective “off-the-shelf” products, seamless system integration and better user experience are things that were probably promised, but not delivered.
With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that one of the main criticisms presented by force members was the perceived wasted investment in their current systems, with some participants referring to them as not being user-friendly and a “waste of policing time”. Consequently, 70% don’t approve of their force’s investments in technology and the number of people who answered that they were completely satisfied with their ICT services was incredibly low – only 2%.
Can improved training and new hardware make things better?
Only 27% think the training they have received to use the systems has been of a high-quality and was delivered at the right time. Some of the main complaints were that the training was not adequate, efficient and not sufficiently timely.
If we consider that perhaps the shortage of high-quality training could be a factor in using the systems efficiently, this might also be contributing to the overall ICT satisfaction (or lack thereof). Improving staff training could prove to be a short-term solution for the serious issues that surfaced in the study, although the problem seems to go much deeper. If the systems themselves have proven to be inefficient and not fit for purpose, then a core ICT system change is needed and training would be just a remediation for the time being.
This can be confirmed by the feedback given by some force members that they “shouldn’t need much training if the systems were well designed and intuitive to use”, which brings us back to one of the study’s reoccurring themes: wouldn’t off-the-shelf systems be more suitable? They can be not only much more user-friendly and offer better training, but also ensure 24/7 support, which, in its current state, was much criticised in the survey.
It would also be necessary, however, to revamp a large portion of the hardware and mobile devices. According to the study, a high number of users (35%) can’t get access to a computer at work when they need one and common comments were that desktop computers were underpowered with “too little memory” and printers often don’t work.
Mobile devices used by the force have also been under scrutiny, as participants pointed out their devices are outdated, have poor signal reception and don’t work properly. Another consequence of the poor system integration is the fact that working with mobile applications is a big issue with police software needing multiple logins and staff often having to use their own personal phones for work-related activities.
A dark perspective on the quality of data
Worryingly, only half of the police force rely on the information held on the force’s systems and many commented about poor system integration with other agencies, as well as duplication of data into as many as six different forms, which pointed out to data quality risk. If evidence and criminal information are stored to poor standards, at worse, this will contribute to unreliable information in criminal lawsuits and compromise our whole justice system. In the very least, the force will have to waste time and resources retrieving data from multiple systems.
Where do we go from here?
As the procurement procedures and the many millions invested in the purchasing of wrong equipment seem to be two of the root causes for the poor performance and satisfaction of ICT services in the force, many participants recommended that frontline users should be consulted throughout the process of development procurement, implementation and training of a new system.
The results come in contrast to recent government initiatives to fund technological innovations in the public sector. If we consider that cities (and places in general) are getting smarter by the day, and the presence of technologies such as AI and Machine Learning are being constantly encouraged and present when it comes to citizen services, it is a dark place to be when basic technological services in the police are so outdated and inefficient.
The survey was commissioned by the police governance organisation, CoPaCC, and supported by the Police Federation, the Police Federation of England & Wales, Police Superintendents’ Association and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents.