ICT is starting to have a significant impact on the strategic vision of police forces across the country, particularly with regard to the allocation of police resources to administrative tasks and the role of communities in crime prevention. Victoria Police’s ‘Blue Paper: A Vision for Victoria Police in 2025’, released earlier this month, points out that investment has historically been focused on building a highly visible policing outfit but that economic scarcity is creating challenges and enforcing the need to ‘do more with less’.
“Patterns of investment over the past twenty years (an almost exclusive focus on numbers of police and police stations) will not meet the challenges faced by police and the community’s expectations,” it says.
The Blue Paper infers that ICT can help increase visibility without necessarily increasing the number of police officers. Therefore, if efficient systems and mobile technology can move police into hotspots, and away from their desks, then skilful ICT usage acquires an importance comparable to total officer numbers.
Victoria’s vision is of a mobile force, “police officers at service points or on patrol will be equipped with a mobile device that receives a real-time feed of information and tasks so that they can focus on preventative activities and community priorities, such as patrolling crime hotspots, and respond to incidents as and when they occur. Police will not need to return to the supersite during their shift.”
Other jurisdictions are also citing mobility as a key component of their ICT strategy, and a key driver of increased police officer efficiency and effectiveness.
Tasmania is rolling out an electronic infringement app for tablets that will improve an officer’s capacity to access identity information on-the-spot and issue fines, including an ability to review prior offences. The app will enable officers to issue infringements in the field, rather than having to return to the station to enter the details into the database. Assistant Commissioner Phil Wilkinson is estimating 20.5 police hours will be saved per day, resulting in a saving of $250,000 per year. While this seems like a small saving, it is enough to pay for two to three more police per annum.
NSW Police is also taking actions, CIO Chris Robson told Intermedium in May that “mobility really is a necessity if we are going to give people access to information and processes and still let them be out there on the street servicing our customers.” Robson reiterated this view at the AIIA Police and Justice Briefing, highlighting that within five years, NSW’s target is to have “a scalable, reliable and sustainable technology infrastructure, proactively managed to meet business expectations for availability, performance, reliability and security…”
In mid-2013 NSW Police undertook a trial of issuing infringement notices electronically, where on-the-spot information was automatically uploaded to the Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) database. As with the Tasmanian experience, it eliminates the time taken to subsequently enter data into the system. However, a state-wide rollout of this technology was not allocated funding in the 2014-15 Budget.
Citizen involvement gets a lot of attention in Victoria’s Blue Paper.
“Without vast increases in police numbers – on a scale that no government could contemplate – it is not possible for police to manage crime and other public safety hazards alone,” the Paper states.
In addition to canvasing the use of volunteers for “patrolling the night-time economy with police [and] running youth activities”, emphasis is placed on social media and other platforms. “The public will be able to report crime and suspicious activity through online self-service portals and will be able to provide pictures and video to assist in offender identification. Victims of crime and owners of lost property, for example, will be able to upload images of property to assist in its identification and recovery…”
Turning this vision into reality
To achieve such changes, the Blue Paper acknowledges Victoria Police will need to develop innovative and efficient practices to ensure officers spend more time in the field and less time dealing with inefficient and outdated systems. The Blue Paper does not shy away articulating Victoria Police’s ICT woes.
The Paper states that currently “around 50 per cent of a police officer’s time on each shift is spent in the station, with a significant proportion attributed to administrative tasks associated with information capture and reporting.”
A proportion of this time is spent battling outdated software. Consultation for the Paper discovered that officers used their more up-to-date personal computers to access material.
Victoria Police’s infamous Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) is singled out by the Blue Paper as ‘antiquated’, and ‘unsuited to a twenty first century approach to policing’. LEAP is used for data storage and retrieval, but does not contain intelligence, which is accessed on a separate system, Interpose. Interpose is an intelligence database and electronic case management system.
Moves to replace LEAP, a mainframe based ‘green screen’ system in place since 1993, have been beset with problems and poor cost estimation. LEAP has already suffered one failed replacement attempt in 2011, which cost around $30 million, according to a report by the State Services Authority.
The 2013-14 Budget did invest in the Police Information Process and Practice reform program (PIPP), tasked with “developing a strategic view of Victoria Police’s information, IT and business needs,” PIPP is comprised of two projects, Transform and Sustain.
The Transform Project aims to create a single point of access for information which will not only consolidate disconnected systems but “expand mobile technology in the field”. The Sustain Project, allocated $23 million over four years in the 2013-14 budget, focuses on maintaining LEAP and Interpose in the short term only.
The Blue Paper argues that LEAP’s enhancements are having positive results. “It is conservatively estimated that improvements in family violence processes alone, have released an extra 72,000 police hours for patrol and proactive duties, at an equivalent value of $3.8 million. It is also estimated that there has been a 30 per cent reduction in the time spent on the relevant administrative documentation by front line police.”
Intrinsic to the context of the Blue Paper and failed ICT projects is the ‘Inquiry into the command, management and functions of the senior structure of Victoria Police’ (also known as the Rush Enquiry)’. The ‘Enquiry’s findings were tabled in March 2012, and revealed mismanagement across Victoria Police. It stated that “Victoria Police, at present, does not have the capacity to deliver the major IT projects necessary to provide future capability for best practice policing.”
The Enquiry was scathing in its assessment of LEAP, stating “LEAP is based on out-dated technology, requires large amounts of time of operational police … filling in forms and completing administrative tasks related to data entry. These forms are then faxed to a central data entry bureau where data entry staff work around the clock keying the information into the LEAP system. LEAP is highly inefficient, burdensome and expensive.”
The key to the implementation of the Blue Paper will be funding.
According to the Paper, “Only about 5 per cent of Victoria Police’s budget is discretionary, and this includes most [Victorian Public Service] VPS staff. It is not possible to find the necessary funding for new investments in ICT within existing financial arrangements. In a heavily constrained budget environment, a thorough external review of Victoria Police’s finances – including the funding model, consistent with the State Government’s response to the Rush Inquiry – is vital to establish a financially viable pathway.”
The Government may well be receptive to this entreaty for funding. Victoria Police received $25.9 million in the 2014-15 Budget for a major information technology refresh, following on from the prior year funding for PIPP. While most funding will be directed to hardware upgrades, other critical areas will benefit, including system improvements to arrest warrant technology, to “improve the ability of Victoria Police to locate and apprehend persons with outstanding arrest warrants within four days.”