MPs tell police to squeeze more out of their Blackberrys

Police must share good practice about using Blackberrys and other mobile devices, says public accounts committee

Parliament’s influential public accounts committee has called for the Home Office to provide all police forces with opportunities to learn from the experiences of those that have maximised their use of mobile technology.

Its report into the department’s £71m programme to equip police officers with 41,000 Blackberrys and other mobile devices, says that some forces have used mobile devices to improve efficiency, but most have not.

“Although most forces reported that the devices allowed officers to spend more time out of the station, some said that using the devices actually led officers to spend more time in the station,” said Margaret Hodge, the chair of the public accounts committee.

Furthermore, neither the Home Office nor the National Policing Improvement Agency knew why this was the case, she said.

The committee’s report on mobile policing echoes many of the criticisms made by the National Audit Office (NAO) in January.

In its recommendations, however, the committee points out that the Home Office has responsibility for improving the system-wide performance of policing and calls on it to set out the “practical steps” that it will take to fulfil that responsibility.

The committee says it is important to “make the most” of the investment already made.

Both the committee and the NAO found that most forces did not use central contracts to buy devices. Police forces that used mobile devices well told the committee that negotiating directly with suppliers resulted in “increased flexibility and benefits”.

The report says there must be clear guidance on what police forces must buy centrally, with the benefits of this approach backed up with robust data.

Hodge said: “The Home Office is setting up a new company to manage IT for the police. Given that some forces told us that they achieved better deals locally, the department needs to put in place clear guidance about what must be bought centrally, and why.”

Paul Ridgewell, senior analyst at public sector market intelligence firm Kable, said: “In many cases forces found PDAs to be less operationally useful than they envisaged.

“Although it is possible to make Police National Computer checks on a BlackBerry, forces have found that entering a crime report, for example, requires a full-sized keyboard and a larger screen.

“As a result, there has been a shift from handheld to larger, car-mounted devices, such as Panasonic’s Toughbook.”

Ridgewell added that it was hard to disagree with criticism that the scheme was not sufficiently well thought out.

This article is published by Guardian Professional. For weekly updates on news, debate and best practice on public sector IT, join the Guardian Government Computing network here.

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