The Metropolitan Police are wasting £212m a year maintaining IT gear including a network based on a 1970s-era baggage-handling system, a damning report from the capital's assembly claims.
A full 85 per cent of the force's £250m IT budget goes on maintaining “out-of-date, ineffective and overly expensive technology, some of which dates back to the 1970s”, according to the Smart Policing report released today (PDF, 48 pages).
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John Biggs, chairman of the assembly's budget and performance committee and Labour member for the City and East constituency, moaned that "it can take officers up to 30 minutes to log on to a computer", while pointing out that "having to re-enter the same information in ten different systems wastes time and creates opportunities for error".
One core system still in use today by the capital's flatfoots is based on a 1970s baggage-handling system, while the force's IT infrastructure consisted of more than 750 separate systems which had been bodged together over the last four decades.
Seventy per cent of the force's systems were labelled "redundant" in the report, with that number expected to increase to 90 per cent by 2015.
Committee members singled out the Met's Directorate of Information, which handles the force's ICT matters, for particular criticism. Instead of acting as as a "partner" and "constructively engaging" with the crime-fighting elements within the Met, the DoI "simply [does] what the rest of the Met tells it to do", according to the report.
Damningly, even the Met itself acknowledged that the DoI “is not organised in the right way, with the right skills; it also acknowledges that it needs to train and develop current staff, and possibly bring in new people.”
The force blamed its voluntary redundancy programme for allowing skilled staff to jump ship to the private sector, while the report's authors took a swipe at Conservative mayor Boris Johnson for cutting non-uniformed back office staff and driving out those skilled sysadmins – presumably instead of cutting front-line uniformed constables.
However, the force has also set itself the target of reducing the running costs of its back office tech by £60m within three years, suggesting that the outflow of IT staff may well continue.
As well as castigating the Met's hotchpotch of bodged and outdated systems, the report also looked at tech it believes the police should be using but isn't – such as mobile apps, social media and the cloud. It highlights the force's target of handing out 30,000 mobile devices to front-line officers this year, while warning that the national rollout of 41,000 devices between 2008 and 2011 sucked up £71m while achieving very little.
The report also recommended that the Met copy Los Angeles' predictive crime-mapping system, which uses historic crime data to predict where offences may occur in the future. Despite the British authors' enthusiasm for a Minority Report-style future where computers order innocent people to be banged up lest they put a toe out of line, the LAPD warned that "the computer will never replace good policing practices". ®