Plans for a more high-tech police force come under fire over funding

Police leaders and MPs question how changes will be funded in the face of big cuts

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The Independent Online

Forget the classic cars and the cigars associated with the detectives of yesteryear. Forces of the future will be armed with video technology streaming pictures of crime scenes to a hi-tech court system administering cheaper and swifter justice, according to documents released by the Cabinet Office. 

But the Government’s plans for a seamless criminal justice system and forces of digital detectives came under fire as police leaders and the Opposition questioned how it would be funded in the face of cuts that have slashed police budgets and cost 16,000 jobs.

The technological upgrade was mentioned as part of a 30-page document released by the Cabinet Office and Treasury to coincide with the Autumn Statement announcing how it planned to expand its £14bn savings programme through digital projects, cutting fraud and other measures.

Under current plans, by 2016 every police officer will go on patrol with a hand-held device which will give details of suspects and their criminal histories.

Other projects under trial include body worn cameras – which would help provide hard-to-challenge evidence and lead to potentially quicker guilty pleas – and technology that allows police to target particular crime hotspots when on patrol.

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People were brought over to target designer shops during trips lasting just a few days (Getty Imgaes)

“I see the fact that spending is being reduced is a necessity. We have to control costs in future and this is an opportunity to deliver a transformation that has not happened before,” said Nick Herbert, the Government’s former policing minister who has championed the changes.

But the ambition for a “digital end-to-end criminal justice system” follows a series of failed attempts to upgrade police technology.

The chief inspector of police, Tom Winsor, found that officers’ smartphones were often more powerful than the equipment they have been given to do their jobs.

Some 2,000 different IT systems are in use in 43 different police forces in England and Wales and an abandoned attempt by Surrey police to introduce a £15m computerise crime logging system was condemned as a debacle.

A 2012 National Audit Office report into a programme to equip officers with mobile devices such as BlackBerrys found that it failed to provide value for money after an £80m investment. The report said  the changes allowed officers to spend only an extra 18 minutes out of police stations.

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A programme to equip officers with mobile devices such as BlackBerrys failed to provide value for money (Getty Images)

“I’ve been a police officer for 26 years and every single year I’ve heard government say they are going to cut bureaucracy,” said Steve White, the chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers. “You can’t bring about digitalisation and investment in IT to make our job easier without spending money. It’s as simple as that.”

Labour has announced plans to save money £250m by scrapping the elected police and crime commissioners first introduced by the Government in 2012 and improving the procurement system.

“Technology has the ability to transform policing with more time spent in the community and less back at police stations,” said shadow police minister Jack Dromey.

“What is crucial is a national strategy – not 43 police forces doing their own thing – and the necessary investment. The question the Government has to answer is where the money is coming from.”

The Government has rejected senior police requests to reduce the number of forces, which they say will help make savings.

The Coalition has allowed elected police and crime commissioners to agree deals for forces to share their assets or outsource work to the private sector.