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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 June, 2004, 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK
Police intelligence system 'problematic'

By Jon Silverman
Home affairs analyst

In October 2000, a summit was held at Lancaster House to discuss the weak points in policing which made it vulnerable to the demands of the 21st century.

Four key areas were identified, one of which was information technology (revealingly, in the light of the Bichard report, another was leadership).

An officer using a computer with face-mapping technology
Police are still waiting for a national intelligence database
The police themselves recognised the deficiencies and the Home Office agreed to beef up its financial support.

Yet, almost four years later, we are still waiting for a national IT intelligence system.

One of the problems has been the fiction that we already have something along these lines. After all, the new updated Police National Computer (PNC) went live back in 1995.

According to the Association of Chief Police Officers, the PNC would provide "instant and vital information to police investigators".

Blunkett's pledge

But it was a fiction because it was never truly national. Each police force has had its own system for inputting and retaining data.

On average, a major police IT project takes about 20 years from inception to rollout
Tom Williamson
Ex-chief constable of Nottinghamshire
So, when a major crime was committed, like the abduction and murder of Sarah Payne in 2000, many forces were unable to respond to a request for help from Sussex police because they did not keep the information on suspects which might have shortened the inquiry.

David Blunkett has pledged that the first national police intelligence system will now be a priority. But how quickly can it be rolled out?

Tom Williamson, former deputy chief constable of Nottinghamshire, is not optimistic.

He said: "On average, a major police IT project takes about 20 years from inception to rollout. That's about two-thirds of a police officer's career.

"It's one reason why police technology lags behind other parts of criminal justice and a mile behind the private sector."

Technical problems

The national body responsible for overseeing database projects, the Police Information Technology Organisation, told forces almost a decade ago that a uniform intelligence system was being developed.

But technical problems delayed it to the point where individual chief constables decided to buy their own systems "off the shelf".

This is why intelligence has not been linked up to crime reporting, case preparation or command and control systems.

ACPO told Bichard it favoured the Scottish model in which the country's eight forces were linked by the same system.

But it is worth noting that even with a police service of only 14,000, it took four years to develop.

The scaling up problems associated with 43 forces in England and Wales and 140,000 staff should not be under-estimated.

Intelligence system 'years ahead'
22 Jun 04  |  Scotland
Whiting guilty of Sarah murder
12 Dec 01  |  England

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