Frontline police officers are hamstrung by an antiquated and fragmented system of technology that fails to provide them with basic information when they turn up on suspects' doorsteps, the new chief inspector of constabulary said today.
Officers' personal smartphones were often exponentially more powerful than the equipment they were given by their own forces to do their jobs, said Tom Winsor in his first public statements since the controversial choice for the job started work seven months ago.
Mr Winsor, the former rail regulator, also warned that too many communities were not helping the police to carry out their jobs, and called on parents and schools to help instil a greater sense of right and wrong. He also called for greater responsibility to be placed on health services for treating and diagnosing the mentally-ill to help prevent them from going on to commit serious violent crime.
But some of his strongest criticisms were saved for the "rudimentary and primitive" technologies that failed to link police work with other parts of the criminal justice system. "The screaming frustration of front line police officers with antiquated and outdated systems is a matter of considerable national importance," he told reporters.
He said that there were more than 2,000 different information technology systems in use in the 43 police forces. Mr Winsor said he met one officer with a PDA (personal digital assistant) half the size of a shoebox that proved to be "next to useless".
"When police officers get to the police station and put on their uniforms, they lock in their locker a smartphone which has exponentially greater capacity then the system they put on their shoulders.
"Some officers will use [their own] smartphones for voice recording and photographs and getting information. It is highly desirable for the officer of the future … to have a hand-held device on patrol and will be able to walk up the street and know that at number 22 there's a registered sex offender."
He contrasted police systems with technology that made it easier to commit crime from petty offences to terrorism. He said that improvements in the police national database - which started two years ago in an attempt to link police intelligence and holds 1.8 billion pieces of data - needed to continue.
Mr Winsor, the first chief inspector of constabulary for England and Wales without a policing background, said that police needed to focus their operations on crime hotspots. He said that prevention was the primary purpose of policing rather than catching criminals.
"The police always have to do more with fewer resources in the current circumstances of austerity," he said. "Therefore the biggest bang for the public's buck is on crime prevention."
Mr Winsor was a controversial choice as chief inspector after he called for radical changes in conditions, including a cut in pay for new constables and direct entry at higher ranks. The changes in a government-ordered report sparked protests from rank-and-file police leaders.
But after a conciliatory speech in which he described the model of British policing as the best in the world, Mr Winsor also called for more help from the public for them to do their job. "In too many communities the public will not assist the police and it's highly desirable that they do because the police are not a force apart," he said.
Tom Winsor - seen as a provocative appointment
Tom Winsor's first major public speech was greeted with respectful applause from his audience of senior police officers and academics. Next month - when he addresses the rank-and-file police officers - he may receive a distinctly frostier reception.
Home Secretary Theresa May was heckled at the Police Federation annual conference last year in the wake of Mr Winsor's series of comprehensive reports that called for cuts to new entrants' pay, fitness tests and the right of chief constables to lay off officers for the first time.
Mr Winsor, 55, a lawyer with no policing background, has come to be viewed as the face of unpopular reform, a role he had performed previously in his role as rail regulator. The former Labour Party member clashed with former Transport Secretary Stephen Byers in 2001 over the future of Railtrack as it went into administration.
His appointment to the job of chief inspector was viewed as a provocative move and a signal of intent by a government set on reforms to the service in the face of police protests and during a period of budget cuts.