The challenge of funding tech for UK law enforcement

Police desk

A 7 November report from the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts on the financial sustainability of police forces in England and Wales (report pdf) concludes that the government is ‘not showing strategic leadership of the policing system’ and ‘does not have a national picture of demand for police services and so has a limited understanding of what resources forces need’.

Writing in The Register, Rebecca Hill highlights one of the key issues in the report – the 11% ‘top-slice’ on police budgets to fund national programmes in 2018-19, including £495 million for technology.

This is a perennial problem for tech in law enforcement; should the government try to centralise IT provision to promote a common, UK-wide approach or should they devolve the decision to the local level and give forces the cash to buy things for themselves?

The first option promotes common systems but relies on developing large-scale systems that inevitably become a compromise solution in the attempt to meet conflicting requirements. These projects often either fail or result in a system that misses the mark for some or all users.

The second approach risks producing islands of incompatible systems and processes in different forces – but locally purchased IT solutions are often off-the-shelf and available now. We cover both ends of this argument – with CSAS available for local deployment and CDAN operating centrally – but our experience is that it’s much easier to sell CSAS locally and give hard-pressed analysts and investigators the tools they need now, than it is to engage centrally and work a large project through to competition.

Don’t get me wrong, we’d love to sell a few large systems centrally that were available to all, but we’ll settle for giving people the tools they need now.

As always, we’re interested to know what you think: [email protected]

Joe Hoy, November 2018

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