VSJ – October 2004 – Members’ News

Council member Paul Lynham reports on a recent Parliamentary IT Committee meeting.

‘Joining up criminal justice IT’ was the subject of the PITCOM meeting on 28 June 2004, a subject that was particularly topical in light of the report of the Bichard Inquiry into the Soham murders.

The speakers were John Burbeck, Chief Constable of Warwickshire Police, John Suffolk, Head of the Home Office Criminal Justice IT programme and Kevin O’Connell, Deputy Director General of EUROPOL.

The problems of integrating police service IT with that of the other criminal justice players are easily put into context. There are 43 police forces that are separately accountable for the way they spend money, so there are many people who need to agree to take decisions. It is also difficult for police forces to divert funds from other cost centres in order to finance IT development – police officers cannot be taken off the streets without cost. Further, each police force has its own priorities and funding varies between them. As an example, the West Midlands police force brought in the command and control system in 1974 while Warwickshire didn’t buy its first system until 1999.

Another problem is that, because each force is individual, large IT suppliers are not interested in the risk of developing systems that are unlikely to be adopted across the board. As an aside, as one questioner later pointed out, there are many SMEs that would be interested in developing such systems. Small and micro sized companies play a very important role not only in the IT industry but also in the economy as a whole.

Looking further, the Crown Prosecution Service as well as the courts, Youth Offending Teams, the prisons and the Probation Service needs to be added, thus increasing the number of decision makers even more.

The starting point for the criminal justice system is ‘what’s on the books today’. There are case and custody applications, the source of the vast majority of data. The material needs to be taken from those systems to the Crown Prosecution Service, handling over 1 million cases a year, where the information is manually keyed. It also needs to go to the court systems, where most of the data are paper based. Then the results go to the Police National Computer. This needs to be done without re-keying.

In Europe, engineers can manipulate most of the information because names, addresses and dates of birth are similarly structured. But, in the absence of a criminal justice strategy for Europe, there remain numerous problem areas. For this reason, the European Commission is drafting just such a document. Under the current systems, prior authorisation is required for all data manipulation. EUROPOL is currently putting together a database that does not allow the storage of the addresses of organised criminals because that is not explicitly detailed in the existing convention! Another issue is that of the Commission making decisions with 25 member states where it is hard to find unanimity.

Finally, there is the spectre of Big Brother. In the UK, car movements are captured, with pictures of the driver, so that it is already known where many drivers were on a particular date and time. Questions around the circumstances under which these data should be used are still to be resolved.

[Don’t forget to email eo@iap.org.uk with items of news about you or your company.]

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