Criminality IT systems in the UK fail to meet expectations

Despite billions being invested in IT, the U.K. government has failed to introduce about a third of the recommendations on police sharing data four years after they were made, a review said on Wednesday.

Four years on from Sir Michael Bichard’s inquiry into policing, nine out of the 31 recommendations had still not been properly addressed, Sir Ian Magee said in his ‘Review of Criminality Information.’ This was in spite of GBP 2 billion (US$4 billion) worth of investment in public protection IT in the “last few years.”

One of the outstanding recommendations was the urgent roll out of a national IT system, or a Police National Database, which was meant to support police intelligence for all forces in England and Wales on potentially dangerous individuals. But this is still under development.

“While some interim measures such as the Interim Police Local Exchange (which supports CRB disclosure) have been put in place, the delay in full implementation means that we are still living with at least some of the risks. Ministers believe they have taken action to remove the risk by accepting the recommendation and launching the program to implement it. Furthermore, front-line police officers see little or no tangible action and may conclude therefore that this cannot be a priority,” the report said.

The Bichard report, published in 2004 after the murders of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, said police forces needed to share information far better in order to help prevent such crimes from happening.

But a contractor, LogicaCMG, was only appointed in April this year to create a database that would hold the details of those working with children, and flag up individuals who are unsuitable to do that work.

Sir Ian Magee, author of the new report, said the Home Office needed “swifter progress” on implementing Bichard’s remaining recommendations. Magee said there was not enough being done on sharing information between agencies here and abroad.

“Information doesn’t always flow freely among the network of public protection organizations and the consequences of this can be very serious,” he said in a statement at the launch of his report.

Government nervousness after major data losses may have played a part in this, he said. Also many people working to protect the public are “hampered” by the systems they had to use, he said.

The government needs to act immediately to improve the capture and transfer of information to prove identity across criminal justice agencies, he said, as well as tackling overlaps of IT systems and accessibility issues to the police national computer. He called for a Commission for Public Protection Information to be set up to advise ministers on the sharing of criminality information and to monitor its progress.

A full review of criminality IT systems was needed by the chief information officers of the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, and overall government CIO John Suffolk, the report advised.

Systems should be fixed by removing obvious barriers to sharing, as well as defining the governance, processes, standards and architecture that will improve data sharing and help different systems to interoperate.

Technology also needed to be more reusable to reduce the need to constantly build new systems. “There should be better engagement between the organizations in the [public protection network] with IT suppliers so that they understand priorities and respond to the need for processes and IT systems to be able to share criminality information across departments and agencies,” Magee wrote.

Systems need to be directed at tackling real issues rather than being implemented for the sake of it, Magee said, explaining that they “must always be the servant rather than the master.”

“Many of the problems we currently encounter in sharing criminality information arise from the IT systems – they often cannot communicate with each other,” he said. This problem was attributable to a failure to properly specify system requirements in the first place.

Magee recommended the government does not attempt to create “an all encompassing information system” for those involved in public protection, because it would be “impracticable, hugely expensive, and unlikely to succeed according to almost all previous experience.”

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