“Most police officers are, by nature, cynical. So they are quite challenging people to get on board when it comes to implementing new technologies,” said Stevie Dolan, superintendent of Police Scotland at a conference in London this week.
But times are changing, he continued: for example, Motorola is updating its digital policing application, Pronto – a service that lets officers fill in reports directly on mobile devices for incidents such as crime or road collisions, which Dolan said has had “a hugely positive impact on the workforce.”
Pronto is already replacing pens, notebooks and clunky record-keeping for 40,000 officers over 20 police forces across England, Wales and the Channel Islands; more recently, the e-notebook was also rolled out to Police Scotland.
Motorola announced that the application will now let police officers access the millions of photographs held by the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to identify members of the public.
Ian Williams, a former chief inspector at West Yorkshire Police and now a consultant for Motorola, said: “The UK has the particularity that citizens don’t have an ID card, which can be problematic when verifying the identity of someone who is potentially a suspect for an offense.”
“By integrating Pronto with DVLA, police officers can very quickly access a certified form of ID, provided that the person they are facing is a driver.”
The company trialed the new tool in August with Surrey and Sussex Police. Motorola said that removing the barrier between the police force and DVLA’s dataset had reduced the time taken to identify drivers from 16 minutes to only five minutes.
The new tool falls in line with the UK’s Digital Policing Vision, a ten-year plan launched by the National Police Chief’s Council in 2015 to create a police force that seamlessly communicates the information gathered by different departments within the force.
Improving the way information is managed by the police is crucial to boost efficiency; and the lack of integration between sources of information can have grim consequences. For example, police forces in a particular area do not necessarily have access to the details of suspects against whom allegations have been made in another area.
The solution, therefore, likely lies in interoperability – in other words, in making sure that every police officer can easily and quickly access all the information that they can.
“We have eight different crime systems just within Police Scotland,” said Dolan. “If a police officer attends a domestic abuse incident, they have to update 13 different records. We need a single integrated system, where everything would be updated at the same time.”
It is impossible to estimate the opportunities that have been missed because a police officer failed to find information on a system that they didn’t think was worth checking, he continued.
Pronto’s latest integration with DVLA is just a first step in what will be a long process, or so it seems. For Andrew White, assistant chief officer at Lincolnshire Police, it is an overhaul of the entire system that is needed, rather than small updates adding on top of each other.
“Pronto seems to show that we are moving towards that model,” he said. “Perhaps for the first time in the history of police technology, I am optimistic about the future.”
Of course, he continued, police technology has to be deployed responsibly – and it has to be done with the support of the public. If the police wants to harness the best technology to find criminals faster, it is easy to see why concern could grow that more controversial technologies, like facial recognition, will be considered too.
Such concerns are natural, said White, and they can only be solved with what he called “legitimate policing”. “For example, if you are digging into DVLA records to make sure that you are stopping football hooligans from entering a stadium, I think that’s legitimate,” he said.