An interesting report from Reform on digital policing has correctly identified a number of gaps in police preparedness to police deal online and to improve their use of digital technology. It makes 12 recommendations – and I thought I’d share some thoughts on each below. This is a very quick, rough-and-ready response to contribute to Reform’s future work and ongoing debates – and keep the conversation going…
1: The Home Office should create a new police digital capital grant to invest in digital infrastructure, worth around £450 million per annum, with funding coming from savings from accelerating Whitehall’s automation agenda. Government should set one of the public-policy challenges in its Industrial Strategy
Challenge Fund as reducing crime, and invest in innovative new policing technology companies as part of the Industrial Strategy.
Response: I’m all for investment but this sounds like magic money to me as there are no signs of any of these ‘automation agenda savings’ materialising any time soon. The new mechanism of a specific digital infrastructure budget feels unlikely to appeal to anyone trying to prioritise investment (and ring-fences are generally a bad idea in my view, only justifiable where there’s a clear need to show the electorate that their money is going where they want it). The idea of a challenge fund on reducing crime is tantalising – but I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable about the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to judge what this might look like in practice or whether it has a chance in hell of happening (I suspect not).
2: Police forces should use competitive procurement channels, such as the Digital Marketplace, to get value for money when purchasing new technology.
Response: Well, I’ve just gone on the Digital Marketplace and it seems fine for small-scale projects – but I’m not sure the problem is who people are buying from so much as what they are buying. I have also heard that Durham has a different – even smarter – sourcing strategy. Get technology students to use police forces as a base for project assignments or run development competitions – giving the winners jobs within the force (and probably attracting recruits who might never have thought of policing as a home for their digital skills otherwise).
3: Forces should work with the National Police Chiefs Council to extend force-management statements setting out how to meet demand in 15 years or more. Forces should create skills heatmaps to understand the skills available to meet this demand.
Response: Well worth doing this kind of workforce planning if it isn’t already happening – and of course at a strategic level the College of Policing should be doing this too.
4: Forces should improve digital understanding through learning apps and offline training.
Response: Well, I guess – but what kind of ‘digital understanding’ are we talking about. It would seem to me that the best way of developing any skill is to learn in an applied context – so what we’re really talking about is learning how to investigate online, etc and digital training should be embedded within (in this case) investigative training. There is no digital/ real world divide and we shouldn’t create one.
5: The Home Office should create a digital academy to train cyber specialists, graduating around 1,700 police officers and staff a year.
Response: The Home Office running a digital academy scares the life out of me – they have limited HR capability, the service has limited trust etc. Let someone else (e.g. College of Policing) do it.
6: Police forces should aim to increase secondment numbers – seconding up to an extra 1,500 officers and staff.
Response: Is this secondments in or out? Either way quite sensible assuming other workforce planning considerations taken into account – one question is at what stage in careers this is beneficial, and where it is simply better to create a more permeable police service where people often leave and come back.
7: Law-enforcement agencies should seek to increase the number of cyber volunteers to 12,000 from 40, in part by offering more dynamic volunteering opportunities.
Response: Interesting – wonder who would run the programme
8: The Government should implement Sir Tom Winsor’s 2012 recommendation to introduce a system of compulsory severance for all police officers, and to further allow force leaders to make officers redundant if they are underperforming.
Response: I’ve never quite understood how big a problem senior officers currently find constraints on dealing with under-performance – some seem to manage well enough though it is always painful (in most organisations, frankly!).
9: Forces should have fewer than eight ranks, with five likely to be the optimum.
Response: How this relates to digital policing I have no idea – but I’m quite sure it slightly misunderstands the way that current rank structures work. The more interesting point raised to me recently by the Supers Association is that some Superintendents have jobs that are much bigger than ACCs and DCCs (e.g. those working with large city portfolios). I suspect there is a broader conversation to be had about how reward follows responsibilities – and that any decisions on rank structure have to fit within that.
10: The Home Office should organise an annual hackathon-style convention to provide space for police forces to join national bodies and other experts in developing approaches to meeting the new frontline of crime.
Response: Sounds fun – can I play?
So the recommendations get a mixed reception from me – with the biggest problem being that they actually fail to address some of the key problems relating to digital policing. First, data and data sharing. This is where the big wins are in terms of operational policing. Second, accountability – the reason progress is slower than we’d like at the moment is because it’s not really clear who has which responsibilities for driving improvements and how their success will be rewarded – or failure addressed. Third, technology procurement. Why is it that the police keep adding a new system or piece of software each time they find a new problem, rather than drawing on existing systems?