Police Digital Summit 2022: Getting the data house in order
The summit hosts pressing discussion on how UK policing can be advanced effectively with technology, benefiting workforce, partnerships, and society.
Data – and how its value can be maximised – was a key talking point. And while the calibre of experts on stage was testament to the growing importance now placed on technology in policing, overall, the recurring message was that there is plenty to do get the ‘data house’ in order.
Clue has highlighted some stand-out themes from the two-day event.
If we really want to change ‘traditional’ perceptions on use of data as mundane and compliance-laden process, we must shift from discussing static, theoretical use cases to demonstrating exciting real-world wins.
There are many examples of data’s powerful new role in police work. Amplifying scenarios where data insights or management processes are delivering tangible benefits will catalyse similar projects, partnerships, digital awareness and literacy, and recruitment potential in a competitive data skills market.
Regarding frontline advances in more seamless data collection, Darren Scates, CTO of the Met Police, pointed to the use of iPad tablets, enabling officers to upload statements electronically, images and fingerprint signatures into systems ‘on the scene.’
Utilising real narratives and pain-points is a method used by Accelerated Capability Environment’s (ACE’s) Impact Lab, which champions collaborative innovation and interoperability among private sector tech partners by presenting them with real-world police cases and data sets. ACE understands that real problems generate real solutions; “necessity is the mother of invention,” the group has noted.
Teaming up on data-led tech
As policing moves away from a culture of ‘cliff-edge’ investments where technology budgets are unlocked at the expiration of a contract, the sector must embrace iterative processes of continuous improvement. While there are many benefits to organisations working separately, familiar challenges are solvable by joint technology projects.
Participation in “nationally enabled, locally delivered” initiatives can help individual forces access robust technology and manage their investments: “You wouldn’t design an IT solution and divide it by 43,” said Scates.
A best-practice case of effective data integration between multiple force systems, Single Online Home (SOH) is a leading example. Now used by 30 forces nationwide as a channel for members of the public to make 999 and 111 calls online, the service provides a nationally consistent, locally branded service in a single ‘digital police station’. Its aim is to be as reassuring as approaching an officer on the street.
Driving the message home, Durham Constabulary’s Chief Constable, Jo Farrell, called data “the most collaborative space” in policing today, with panellists suggesting that, rather than force-based ownership, data becoming a national asset could help to counter national threats such as cybercrime.
Upholding data standards
The Police National Database (PND) is a hive of UK policing intelligence, containing more than 15 billion records and 20 million images. The database can offer incredibly valuable insights, but much of this data is inconsistent, duplicated, unstructured or entered incorrectly.
On data quality, Farrell suggested there are no more pressing housekeeping issues in policing right now. Although not a ‘sexy’ topic, she admitted, policing cannot realise the potential of data intelligence without high-quality, well-constructed information collection, entry, and management. On this point, Farrell called for better data governance and national minimum standards on data quality, suggesting the implementation of a traffic light system for datasets.
As more data is generated, technology investments will only go so far to extract valuable insights; people are needed in the back-office to make sense of it and ensure its quality standards are being maintained.
But seeking competitive skillsets in data specialists, the policing world must accept and accommodate the fact that not all candidates drawn to data roles will be seeking a lifetime career. As such, organisations may benefit from partnerships with private sector organisations to acquire necessary expertise. Nonetheless, among new talent and existing staff, upholding data quality must now be regarded as everybody’s responsibility.
Reflecting on PDS, Farrell hoped that bringing people together from policing, government and the technology sector would enable a better focus on improving policing for the public: “Our focus needs to be around how we improve confidence in policing, how we are better in terms of effectively dealing people who break the law, and how we support our victims and make sure we prevent crime.”
Integration, consistency, and interoperability are key tenets of effective data-led investigations. Clue’s investigation and intelligence software is used and trusted among UK police forces who are embracing good data practices to better serve citizens.